WEEK SIX CSA CHALLENGE – A TASTE OF THE ISLANDS, MAHN!

What is Turks and Caicos? The Turks Islands and the Caicos Islands together are Turks and Caicos or TCI, British Overseas Territory in the tropical Bahama Island Chain. The predominant theory is that Turk Islands got their name from the Turks’-cap cactus.

turks-head-cactus

While others claim it was named for the Barbary pirates.

Barbarossa

Caicos is said to be derived from the Lucayan “caya hico,” which means – small string of islands.

And here they are:

tccarib

Whyfor this spotty history and geography lesson, Chuck? Well, because this week my CSA Challenge travels with me to the Caicos Islands! I could have put my CSA on vacation and received extra produce another week, but I opted to give my week six produce to friends and try some island fare.

Going native meant preparation. I researched recipes of Turks and Caicos. Historical fare recipes were scarce and most Caribbean dishes – though authentic -were too general for my goals. I opted to find recipes currently being made on the Caicos Islands by working chefs. I was having very little luck until I found an insanely well-linked supplement to the online publication called Where When How – Turks and Caicos, and one issue just happened to feature recipes from Island chefs. I planned the meal, made shopping lists and waited excitedly to head to the grocery after our plane touched down in Providenciales.

Shopping grocery stores in foreign lands is – for me – like going on the best cultural tour ever. Last time in TCI, I found Coconut-Peanut butter, a spread I now prefer over any peanut butter. This trip, spotted dick sponge pudding and coconut cookies were new-to-me items that just happened to fall into the cart.

coconut-peanutSpotted Dick

Other than the eating, the best part of this gastronomic adventure was my outdoor kitchen. For years – trapped inside while making jam and other all-day projects – I have drempt of having a functional kitchen out of doors. A place where I could prepare food surrounded by nature and great views.

In the TCI condo, there was a huge screened porch overlooking the beach and ocean. I set up shop and pretended my outdoor kitchen dream had come true.

kitchen

This practice kitchen was incredibly instructive as I taught me that I definitely need some kind of shade in my kitchen and screens…lots of screens.

 

Week Six Challenge:

Research and reproduce fare being served by Island chefs currently in TCI.

Food for thought

  • Is an ounce a weight or a mass measurement?

RECIPES, LINKS, REVIEWS AND DISCOVERIES

IMG_1880

Recipe: Tomato & Papaya Salsa

Full disclosure: this recipe is just a small part of a Mahi Mahi recipe from the kitchen of Coco Bistro

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=33&pre=

Review & Discoveries: THIS IS THE RECIPE OF THE WEEK! A definite must for canning (if possible) or freezing if not to make it through the winter with some fruit and veggie sunshine salsa. Everyone who tasted it, just kept eating it, and found inventive ways to use it in other meals. So far, it is reported to be great on fish, eggs and toast! BTW, this recipe should call for 3 mangoes rather than two, as it is impossible not to eat these ripe beauties as you slice them. BTW, the blue corn chips were an appetizing color contrast for the salad.

IMG_1886

Recipe: Frozen Piña Colada

Link: http://cocktails.about.com/od/atozcocktailrecipes/r/frzn_pna_clda.htm

Review & Discoveries: Attesting to their tastiness, I could only find empty glasses to photograph.

Turks and Caicos was a lesson in flexibility. The condos where we stayed had great access to a local grocery store, but the larger grocery store with more selection included a spin on the local highway, a task the hotel’s rickety one-speed bike was not mete to undertake. Due to this limitation, (as with other menu items) I had to scrap my plan of making “Turkinis” when the necessary ingredients were not available.

I headed down the street to the liquor store. No luck there either, I explained my predicament to the proprietress why asked me, “Have you ever tried Bambarra?”

“What is Bambarra?”

“It is the rum of Turks and Caicos!”

Can’t get much more TCI than that, I thought and grabbed Bambarra reserve.

Bambarra

A quick Google of crowd-pleasing rum drinks brought me to mojitos. But our store lacked mint, so it was on to piña coladas. Couldn’t find Crème de coconut, so I asked one of the super friendly employees for assistance. Not certain which one of several different creamed concoctions of coconut I wanted, he asked, “You mean for making piña coladas from scratch?”

“Is there any other way?”

Luckily the condo had a super heavy-duty blender and a few, very loud revolutions later a frothy white drink slid glacially into glasses. Sweet, warm, creamy…oh yeah, life is good.

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Recipe: Conch Salad, Man!

Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Conch-Salad-Man-51138800

Review & Discoveries: So how can you tell if the conch is fresh? This was a question for which I hadn’t prepared. Seeing as I was in a major conch-farming region in a grocery store touting the “catch of the day,” chances were good that the conch was fresh. But when I pressed on the conch, it had a more hard rubber spring back than expected. I gave it the smell test…all good. Then looked at the surrounding fish….clear, bright eyes and good flesh tension. Seemed worth the dice roll.

When I started to prepare the conch, I found that when it was sliced, it had a much softer, less rubbery texture that was perfect for this ceviche style salad.

One note: I made this salad the day before as the recipe said to chill combined for at least an hour to maximize flavor. So – I thought – if one hour is good, nine hours should be primo! But when I served the conch salad, it tasted of brine. As I hadn’t salted the dish, the only guess I could make was that osmosis over so many hours had pulled the salt out of the conch flesh and re-distributed it throughout the dish. It was so heavy, I ended up rinsing the whole salad and adding orange, lemon and lime juices to bring it closer to the desired taste.

Despite my learning curve, the conch salad was yummy and light – after the debrining. A great starter for any meal.

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Recipe: Cappellini Aglio e Olio

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=55&pre=

Review & Discoveries: Being a girl who likes her gravy, I was a bit apprehensive about this recipe. It seemed to loose an amalgamation of sauce-like ingredients to satisfy. And where was the oregano? “This isn’t Italian fare,” I reminded myself. “This is island time!” I put my reservations on hold and was amply rewarded. I won’t say I won’t tweak this recipe when I make it again, but it was both simple and spectacular.

fish 2

Recipe: Caribbean Stuffed Red Snapper

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/caribbean-stuffed-red-snapper-recipe.html

and original recipe (Herb Crusted Grouper) link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/?l=1&m=19978

Review & Discoveries: Improvisation was key to making this main course work. Before reaching the island, I had selected an herb-crusted grouper.

I prepared the crust – a blend of herbs, bread crumbs and butter, rolled ¼” thick and placed in the freezer for cutting and placing on the fish just before a final broil. However, when I got to the grocery store to purchase the fillets, the fresh catch options did not include grouper.

Scrambling, I saw some lovely red-eyed fresh snapper. I had never prepared a whole fish before, but figured, how hard can it be? Yes, fools rush in…

Found a recipe for snapper online that included additional ingredients to turn the crust I had already made into a stuffing and to better compliment the snapper. I thawed and re-crumbled the crust and added the new ingredients.

Followed instructions to salt and lime the snapper inside and out, then wash both away before stuffing the fish. The recipe instructs leaving the salt and lime on and in the fish for at least 15 minutes. But I think I won’t let it remain for more than 30 when I make this fish again. For this effort, I left the lime and salt on for several hours. For me, it gave the fish a too aggressive salt taste.

Grilling instructions were followed, but alas, something wasn’t quite right. The fish was not fully cooked. So it was finished off under the broiler. All in all, quite yummy. Hard to go wrong with fresh ingredients.

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coconut moose

Recipe: Coconut Sphere with Caramelized Banana

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=55&pre=

Review & Discoveries: Yes, I had high hopes. But with island humidity and lack of kitchen implements, I decided to take some meringues with me and just make the coconut moose and caramelized bananas.

While in NYC before the trip, I searched for a butane kitchen torch that had a removable fuel tank so it could travel and I would just need to purchase fuel on the islands. My search failed and the caramelized bananas were the next casualty.

It didn’t matter, coconut moose would be awesome. However, the local market didn’t have vanilla bean or gelatin, so it was time to scrap the entire dessert.

A Tortuga rum cake would be apropos. Atop my beloved, rusty one-speed bike, I hit the road. No Tortuga either. Walked to the bakery counter…everything was German sweet chocolate this and red velvet that. Decided to grab some mango and coconut gelato and pair it with the meringues.

I will admit, I was shocked not to find fruit gelato at the store. Barred at every turn, but refusing to ditch dessert entirely, I parted with my original intentions, and decided just to try a new flavor of ice cream instead. Pistachio, á la Ben and Jerry was the chosen iced dairy confection. It may not be island, but mahn was it good! There is a reason you find Ben and Jerry’s ice cream around the globe.

 

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