Monday, June 15, 2009

Hot Tropical Night at Lola's

Slow Food Glades to Coast is hosting a fundraiser at Lola's on Harrison in Hollywood. Hot Tropical Night will be on July 9th from 7 - 9:30pm. The invite explains that "Award winning Chef Michael Wagner will prepare a Slow dinner themed around tropical fruits and vegetables and seafood." The cost of the event is $59.00 all inclusive and proceeds benefit Slow Food community projects and gratuity. Call 954-927-9851 to make a reservation. Lola's on Harrison is located at 2032 Harrison in Hollywood. I hope to see you there!

Soft Shell Blues

These soft-shelled blue crabs were my local food find of the week. These crabs, harvested just north of here in the St. Johns River, are available at The Fish Peddler East on Commercial Boulevard and Bayview Drive in Fort Lauderdale. When I buy fish (as opposed to catching it myself, which I am about to try, or having another fisherman give it to me) I go to the Fish Peddler East almost exclusively. The shop is clean, busy and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable and honest employees. They know which fish is local and which isn't and I find the local selection far outweighs the items shipped in from other oceans. The Fish Peddler East is located at 2805 East Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. You can call them at 954-491-1441 to check pricing and availability.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Surf Social

The Surf Social began with a selection of appetizers, some passed and some on platters arranged beautifully on tables. We had curried shrimp skewers, octopus toasts, snapper coconut ceviche with yucca chips (yum this was my favorite), goat cheese toasts, roast clams, speck ham around honeydew melon, beef filet with olive tapenade, alligator soup and bamboo cups filled with grilled pompano in what seemed to me like a Vietnamese inspired broth (I could be wrong about this). The standouts for me were definitely the curried shrimp and the aforementioned ceviche which I can't stop thinking about. The biggest surprise hit with me was the pompano. I had never tried pompano, in spite of having lived in its namesake beach for several years, and I found it to be very mild and delicate and not at all fishy, oily or tough, which are all qualities that I dislike in seafood. I'm really kicking myself for not getting the nerve up to try the alligator soup. You can't get any more Florida Locavore than a bowl full of alligator, but honestly, I visited the Everglades a few months ago and saw literally hundreds of alligators. I thought they were disgusting and had no desire to eat one, but now I wish I had been more adventurous tonight. The brave souls who tried the soup said it was delicious and the meat was unusually tender for 'gator. Maybe another time.

Rum Punch

The evening's signature cocktail was the most delicious rum punch I have ever had. If someone doesn't give me this recipe soon I think I might perish. Luckily I managed to control myself and only have one, lest I begin slurring old family stories that no one wants to hear and attempting to start a Conga Line through the hotel.

Roast Baby Pig

Chef Dean made a roast baby pig from a Gainesville farm in a China Box for us. It was served with rolls, jalapenos, mustard, homemade bread and butter pickles and a slaw crunchy with toasted pecans. The piglet was an heirloom variety called Gloucestershire Old Spot and I must say, it was quite delicious.

This is the view from our fancy suite. It was really spectacular. Every so often you could see lightning strikes on the water and the view really lent a lot of atmosphere to the event because you couldn't help but think of World Ocean Day with so much sea spread out before you.

The Surf Social was a big success. There were certainly a lot of people there and it seemed to me like everything went very smoothly, in spite of the terrible weather. The event was originally to be held out on the hotel's terrace, but Chef Dean arranged for it to be moved to a large, luxurious suite on the twelfth floor. There was plenty of room with lots of comfortable seating and balconies with sweeping views of Fort Lauderdale Beach and beyond.

Pink Guava!

Remember back when I found my last guava and I was complaining because when I cut it open it looked like eggplant? Remember how I was also complaining because guavas are grown in Florida yet were nowhere to be found in Publix? Well, I think the manager of my Publix (Sunrise and 15th in Ft. Lauderdale) was reading. All week they've had a lovely selection of Florida grown guavas perfuming their produce section. I bought one, brought it home and cut it open and lo and behold it was PINK!! I liked the pink color much better (same with lemonade, alas). Pink just makes everything better. The taste was exactly the same as the white guava though and I'm still having trouble getting around the hard seeds. I just don't like them. I scooped out the centers and threw them in a pot of chutney I was making, which turned into one of my worst culinary disasters in recent history, deserving of its own upcoming post. And Oh! Don't forget the Surf Social tonight at 3030!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Celebrate World Ocean Day at the Surf Social!

When I was little I wanted to be a mermaid so that I would never have to get out of the ocean. I loved the ocean so much that I wanted to live in it permanently. As I grew up, I continued to love the sea, the sand, the surf and all the creatures who make the ocean their home, although I have stopped wanting to be their roommate (saltwater tangles my hair something awful and all those hours sitting on a rock combing it out with a shell sound dull). This Sunday I will be showing my love, celebrating World Ocean Day by wearing blue and by attending the Slow Food Surf Social at 3030 Ocean, located inside the Harbor Beach Marriott on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Chef Dean Max will be cooking us a local feast with lots of Florida seafood, a roast heirloom pig, and locally grown, native fruits and vegetables. Call Nicole at 954-765-3030, after 2pm to reserve. Cost is a $59.00 donation. For more information visit Slow Food Glades to Coast (scroll down). And as a bonus, if you go, you will get to meet me! I'll be wearing my sparkly fish tail (just kidding).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Emil's Sausage - Double Smoked Bacon


Maybe it started over a decade ago when Emeril coined the slogan "Pork Fat Rules." I blame Atkins for making what was once a low class, unhealthy, off limits, greasy diner staple suddenly a "health food." It's true that bacon is low-carb, but I've never been able to imagine it as remotely good for me. Regardless of its effect on our waistlines and arteries, bacon is huge right now. Bacon is hip, trendy and a little edgy. They're serving it at all the fanciest restaurants, flavoring everything from mayonaise to lip balm (I kid you not) with it and all the ironic hipster bloggers have gotten in on the action, weaving bacon slices into mats. I've even seen a bra made from bacon. People are just crazy over bacon. Prime 112, one of Miami's hottest steakhouses, even provides glasses filled with bacon strips for bar snacks and of course everyone goes nuts for it. Something about the presentation reminds me of dog treats.

Frankly, I'm a little over bacon. I don't think it's that great. I don't dislike it and it certainly has its uses, but bacon is ultimately bad for you (unless it's in lip balm form). Aside from the fat and salt, commercial bacons are filled with preservatives and nitrites. Bacon is a highly processed food. Of course it didn't start out that way. I remember mouth watering descriptions of home-smoked bacon in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I read as a child. It always sounded so good. I could practically hear it popping in Ma's cast iron skillet. But the bacon you find in the grocery store now barely resembles the bacon the pioneers relied upon to get them through wagon trains and long winters.

I always wanted to try homemade bacon. This past week I finally got my chance when I found a local source at Emil's Sausage in Deerfield Beach.

Emil's used to be located in Pompano and I had driven by it a million times without ever stopping. I confess that I'm not a gigantic sausage fan. Being squeamish about most meat, I don't want to eat anything I can't immediately identify. You can slip any number of horrifying things into a sausage and let's not even discuss the whole issue of casing. As a child I would meticulously peel my hot dogs until someone told me what was in them and I stopped eating them altogether.

But bacon is bacon. It's straightforward. There's no livers or snouts in it, so when I heard that Emil's smokes and cures their own, I made the trip up to Deerfield to check it out.

Emil's is an authentic German deli, owned by German people. When I was there not a single patron came in who didn't speak German. I felt like I was in Germany, though I have to admit the closest I've ever come to Germany is Oktoberfest at EPCOT, so I'm not exactly an authority here. My grandparents lived in Hannover for years, but I was never able to visit them there. My other grandfather, who was in the military, often traveled to Ramstein and brought back Gummi Bears and cuckoo clocks. But I digress. Emil's is very German. The shelves are stocked with products that would be local if we were in Munich, including all sorts of interesting condiments, candies, crackers and even magazines. I was particularly intrigued by an apparent curry flavored ketchup, but I didn't buy it because it was pretty much anti-local.

I directed my attention to the products that were local - the meats. Emil's makes everything in house, from bologna to smoked liverwurst to bratwurst to Black Forest Ham. There were at least twenty different types of wursts and on top of that they also make their own sauerkrauts and potato salads. The next time I go I'm going to get some sauerkraut. I've heard it practically performs miracles due to its high probiotic content, which can't be found in the kind they sell from huge cans at hot dog stands. I was there for the bacon though.

The bacon comes in blocks. I liked this because for some recipes bacon is better diced into thick cubes. This way, you have the option of cutting it however you'd like. Emil's offers regular and double smoked. I figured if I was going to go for it, I'd try the double smoked. My theory is that the more intensely flavored the food, the less one needs to eat of it. Therefore, with something as bad for you as salty, smoky pig fat, you want the most intensely flavored variety you can get. I also opted to let them slice it for me and then, amazed at how inexpensive it was, took my bacon home to wait for breakfast.

I like to bake bacon in the oven. Normally I spread the slices on a rimmed sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees until it reaches my desired crispiness. Sometimes I get crazy and glaze it with local honey and sprinkle it with cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne. I highly recommend this, but this time I just wanted to sample my homemade bacon plain.

I found that the homemade bacon cooked a lot faster than commercial varieties. I almost burned it, and the slices were the same thickness as I was used to. It also curled more, contained far less grease and rendered out to a pleasant, shattery consistency. For fans of very crisp bacon, Emil's is perfect for you. It was also far more strongly flavored than your average grocery store brands. You'll definitely need less.

For me, bacon is a rare treat. It should be used sparingly and for special occasions. Since I eat so little of it, I'll be heading up to Deerfield whenever I want bacon because this product is cheaper, has more flavor, is more versatile and has more integrity than mass produced brands. Local bacon, who would have thought?

And remember, bacon is definitely not just for breakfast. Some other things you can do with it are: wrapping some local Key West pink shrimp with bacon and then grilling it, using the bacon to flavor pots of greens or beans, making bacon bits for salads and dressing up sandwiches.

Emil's Bacon, Sliced and Pre-Cooking

Emil's sliced the bacon for me and wrapped it in wax paper and foil. This was a really large amount. I had asked for 3/4 of a pound, thinking that would be enough for a couple breakfasts with maybe some extra to throw in a pot of beans, but it was far more than I needed for just the weekend. Next time I'll go with a half pound. I also included my pricetag because I found this bacon to be extremely inexpensive. I was prepared for the homemade version to be quite costly, however, I only paid $3.76 cents for this. Oscar Mayer and other comparable grocery store brands are much more expensive, not local, create excess packaging waste (including plastic), and support factory farming.

Crispy Bacon

The finished product - Extra Crispy, Double Smoked Bacon from Emil's Sausage in Deerfield Beach located at 124 N. Federal Highway, just North of Hillsboro Blvd. on the East side of the road. Download a $5.00 Coupon so you can try it yourself!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lychees Are Here!

Lychees are now officially in season. To eat, just pull out the stem, peel off the spiky, red rind and eat the flesh surrounding the large, center pit. Spit out the pit like you would with an olive.