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

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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.

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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.

 

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

This week’s CSA challenge is four-fold.

First, I must make a full meal from my CSA stash that will feed myself and five guests.

Second, the meal needs to be gluten-free, but not so that anyone would notice.

Third, The dishes must be prepared on time, at the right temperatures, by one cook…me. (This is usually where my dinner parties skip the tracks).

Lastly, I must compose a meal that allows me to spend time with my guests. If you are lucky enough to get time with friends in this hectic life, you shouldn’t be miss out because you are too absorbed in cooking.

What arrived this week:

Garlic Scapes, Collard Greens, Radishes, Red and Green Spring Lettuce, Cilantro, Argula, Kale, Broccoli and Bib Lettuce

Here is what I made of it:


Food for thought:

(this is what I learned)

  • It is not difficult to plan, prepare and enjoy a gluten-free meal.
  • Garbanzo bean flour savory pancakes are DA BOMB!
  • No matter how casual the occasion, people feel freer to nosh on appetizers when plates are provided.
  • Always check that the grill is working order before the party.
  • I can’t get enough of spring onion and pea soup.
  • Lemon zest isn’t just for decoration.
  • Last week: “What is a garlic scape?”  —-   This week: “I love garlic scapes! Are there more?”
  • My new love of fresh herbs has compelled me to rip out a weedy flower bed and replant it with herbs (and flowers)!
  • -I so enjoyed cooking with chive flowers last week that I picked a bunch and made chive flower vinegar.

CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR RECIPE  http://leitesculinaria.com/80938/recipes-chive-blossom-vinegar.html

 

THE PARTY

My friends arrived with some incredible wine and we proceeded to drink and talk and enjoy the miracle of having time together! And yes, I did achieve part four of this week’s challenge. I wasn’t buried in my cooking because I had planned and prepared the menu scrupulously. I balanced a few items that needed to be served hot with many that could be served cold or at room temperature. I also chose recipes whose flavors would be enhanced by being prepared in advance. Appetizers were on plate before anyone arrived and I filled one sink with wine bottles and ice and made it the drink station to share drink host duties. Everything that could be pre-prepared was waiting in its serving dish along with its serving utensil. Glassware, serving dishes, napkins and utensils were all queued up and ready to go. Pandora was on the “Coltrane” station. I was ready.

I had originally conceived a spring picnic theme for the dinner. But a couple days of torrential rain and flooding drove the festivities indoors…or more suitably into an ark.

Course after course, the dinner went well. People were telling stories, eating, and enjoying themselves. At one point, I sat back and tried to etch the scene into my brain. It was pure bliss. I realized that food had gathered us together and that our being together had lifted us all to a wonderful place of enjoyment, laughter, sharing, and a contended feeling abundance. This made me realize the power of food. I also realized I had achieved a goal I had not previously allowed myself to dream.

I have this awesome friend, Lisa. She is the person who feeds people, she takes care of their souls, she even teaches them to sing (figuratively and literally). At Lisa’s house you always feel welcome and wanted and really, really well-fed. I had always wanted to be a person like Lisa who could make a house feel like home for anyone who entered it. Tonight I did just that.

What a gift this week’s challenge has been. It made me live in the present rather than in a timetable…and that made all the difference. Food isn’t meant to cause a struggle or instill a compulsion to make everything perfectly. Food is pure pleasure with the benefit of sustenance. It is meant to bring us together, not stress us out. This week’s dinner party has taught me to give up on ideal and enjoy a greater pleasure…the present.

And now, the recipes:

The recipe: SPRING GREENS PESTO ON ASIAGO IN BUTTER LETTUCE LEAVES

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-spring-greens-pesto-1-48795

The review: Perhaps mixing collards, kale, as well as red and green spring lettuces wasn’t the best aesthetic decision…making the pesto an unfortunate shade of brown. But the taste was out of this world. Placing the pesto on the Asiago slice was a great contrast of flavor and texture. A leaf replacing a cracker is inspired. The lettuce doesn’t just make the nosh healthier. It also complimented the pesto without dulling or competing with the taste the way a bread product often does. And – to my way of thinking – since the lettuce is basically water, I could eat more of these because I wasn’t filling up on bread. This recipe will be oft repeated on summer afternoons and any day I want to have feel like a summer afternoon. Note about recipe variation: I substituted garlic scapes for garlic…yum. 

The recipe: PUDLA (INDIAN CHICKPEA CREPES)

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-pudla-indian-chickpea-crepes-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199998

The review: When I mentioned to friends that I was looking for gluten-free options for a dinner party, they told me about crepes made with Garbanzo bean flour. They really sold the savory pancake, so I gave it a go. Packed with green chili, cilantro, fresh ginger and chili powder, I couldn’t stop myself from eating them hot from the pan. They were just so darn tasty all by themselves. Next time I make them, I will definitely serve them hot from the griddle. Because as they cooled, they lost some of their magic spicy punch and became a more ho-hum dough round. Since I was using the crepes as a scoop for people to enjoy Indian-style mustard greens and lemon-cilantro hummus, I made them a bit thicker and much smaller than the instructions directed. Next time, I will buy a crepe pan and then experiment with thinning the batter to try to achieve the intended crepe delicacy and sheerness. But any way they turn out, I am certain that up I will gobble them.

The recipe: GRILLED BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK-CHIVE DRESSING

The link: http://scrumpdillyicious.blogspot.com/2012/08/grilled-lettuce-salad-with-buttermilk.html

The review: Who knew you could grill a butter lettuce? Not this chick. I was so intrigued, I had to try it. I won’t say it made a night and day difference in the taste of the lettuce. But there were definite nuances of heat, texture, flavor enhancement and searing that made the salad novel and interesting. The buttermilk dressing was very good but not a standout. Then a happy accident occurred. By some miracle of divine mix-up, I crossed recipes and thought I was supposed to add the zest of two lemons to the buttermilk-chive dressing. I was tempted to leave it out, believing that  lemon zest merely adds texture and visual interest. I included the zest and learned that my opinion of lemon zest (and likely all zest) could not have been further removed from fact! My mistaken inclusion of lemon zest pushed this buttermilk salad dressing from pretty darn good to transcendent. It was a wrong turn I advise taking!

The recipe: FARRO SALAD WITH ROASTED KALE AND BEETS

The link: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/11/dinner-tonight-farro-salad-with-roasted-kale-and-beets-recipe.html

The review: This recipe brought me my first taste of farro – and for that – I will be forever grateful. Farro is a truly filling grain that is very low in gluten, is high in fiber, iron and even higher in protein than quinoa. It also was a chewy, meaty sort of a grain that started me dreaming of hot morning breakfasts of farro…since kicking oatmeal out of my bowls. BTW, a non-gluten version of this recipe may be easily achieved by leaving out the farrow. But I digress. Being a huge fan of roasted beets and goat cheese, I knew I would enjoy this dish. Still, as I read the recipe, I decided to make a tiny change. The recipe says to roast the beets and kale together, which would be perfectly delish. However, my experience making and decimating kale chips inspired me to do something different. If the kale were cooked with the beets at the recommended temp and time, they would end up kind of moist and limp. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But for my eating pleasure, I imagined something different. I roasted the beets sure, but roasted the kale separately until it dried into crispy, crunchy kale chips. Then – only at the last minute before serving – did I mix the kale with the rest of the ingredients. The result was that at serving time you had the chew of farro, the slightly al dente squish of beets, the mushy crumble of goat cheese AND the crunch of kale. A very nice recipe detour. 

The recipe: GARLIC SCAPE SATAY AND SATAY SAUCE

The link: http://food52.com/recipes/17117-garlic-scape-beef-satay-with-garlic-scape-satay-dip

The review: The siren song of satay sauce lured me to select this recipe, blithely overlooking my potential crack up on the rocks of failure. My mouth watered at the thought of peanut butter, lime, fish sauce, coconut milk, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic scapes and cilantro coming together to make the perfect sauce. This recipe did not let down my expectations. I almost could not believe I made this dish when it turned out so articulated in taste, so perfect in texture, and so darn yummy. Dinner guest Verlynn confided that she was considering eating spoonfuls of the sauce straight after her first taste. It was hard to believe that my preparation of this dish started with misgivings. In the last year, I have developed an aversion to beef. The thought of it is always yummy. But whenever I put it in my mouth, there’s dissatisfaction, and sometimes even some gagging involved. None of my guests dislike meat, so that was not a concern. But as I came home from the butcher, I wondered how I personally would like this entrée. Slight concern flared to slight panic as the grill sputtered out minutes before well-done kebabs were achieved. Guests seemed excited about medium-well beef, so we forked ahead. I have to say, it was the best beef I have EVER prepared and the only beef I have really enjoyed within reckoning. It was incredible. Perhaps it was the butcher’s care in selecting the best cut for kebabs. Maybe it was my four day marinade protocol. Either way, this recipe was a home run. This beef satay – made with fresh everything and given days in the refrigerator to ripen – was so good it made me smile thinking about leftovers! 

The recipe: CORN AND RADISH SALAD

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/319260/corn-and-radish-salad

The review: This was a delightful dish, but somehow it missed the mark. Perhaps it was my cooking. Neither the punch I expected from the lime nor its interplay with salt and sweet really never emerged. However, the contrast of the corn and radish was new and exciting. Guests liked this dish, but it wasn’t the best thing on the table. Perhaps it just suffered from relativism. Relatively, the rest of meal was so above par, that this dish was not a standout. Think I might better enjoy a bite of lime-drenched corn on the cob with a nibble of radish mixed in the mouth. But again, perhaps I failed this recipe. Hard to tell.

The recipe: THE BEST BROCCOLI OF YOUR LIFE

The link: http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/11/the_best_brocco.html

The review: This broccoli was very good, but the name really had guests expecting the moon. I agree completely that roasting is a far more tasty way of cooking up quite a few hardier veggies. But beyond roasting adding to the favor signature of a dish, this broccoli recipe (at least not in my amateur hands) failed to rise to the level of best. I won’t throw out the recipe. I will just relabel it: Pretty Darn Good Broccoli. 

The recipe: STRAWBERRY-ARGULA SALAD WITH RICOTTA TOPPING

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-strawberryarugula-salad-86114

The review: I was in the kitchen for a quick second packing some take-home bags, when I heard the unmistakable sound of pleasure when guest David took his first bite of this dessert. It was a primitive sound universally understood. His “Ooh!” spoke of a summer day when you bit into a perfectly ripe strawberry that at that particular moment hit all the pleasure centers just right and made your brain say, “Damn, this is good!” I smiled knowing the dessert was a home run! I set the bags down and sat down to serve myself. “Ohh, Indeed!” The argula and the almonds are wildcards of taste and texture, but great wild cards to balance what could be the overpowering sweetness and softness of this dish. And the sweetened ricotta was an amazing accompaniment of cream, lemon and vanilla (oh yeah, I added a touch of vanilla not in the recipe) to the sweetness of the strawberries and raspberries. Again, tempted to eat a sauce by itself with a spoon. But that is just who I am. 

WEEK 3 CHALLENGE – EDIBLE EXOTICA