A shorter newsletter this month – well, February is a short month!
EDIBLE FLOWERS – fresh or dried – look so lovely mixed in to salads or used as cake decorations. Quite a few flowers are edible – roses, violas and pansies, nasturtiums, calendulas, lavenders, orchids, day lilies, squash blossoms – you may even have some of them in your garden but only eat them if you know they are fertizer and pesticide free. It may be safer to buy them, fresh (www.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com) or freeze dried (www.freshlypreserved.com). If you intend to eat them, rather than use them as decoration, try them first as some taste better than others. They look great in salads, on cakes, popped in drinks, in ice pops, in ice cubes, atop meringues. Squash blossoms can be fried or roasted and stuffed. P. S. You can get buy squash blossoms at the moment at Bedner’s, S. Dixie, West Palm Beach.
Hard on the heels of my mention of Wagyu beef comes OSSABAW PORK. The story behind this breed of pig dates back almost five centuries. In 1539 Hernando de Sota, the Spanish conquistador who explored the southeastern part of the US, and his fellow shipmates brought 13 Iberico pigs to Ossabaw Island, Georgia (it’s near to Jekyll Island) and there they remained, gradually adapting to their new environment, enabling them to tolerate drinking the saline water in the marshes and developing the ability to store vast amounts of fat to survive in times when food was scarce. It is this fat which makes their meat so amazingly delicious plus the fact that Ossabaw Island is a handy source of acorns. The problem is that the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources finds these wild pigs (there are now thousands of them) a pest, not least because they dig up turtle nests and eat the eggs, and want to cull them. The opposing faction of scientists and heritage food supporters want to preserve the pigs’ singular DNA and prevent possible extinction. Back in 2002, there was a concerted attempt to pignap some pigs and get them to the mainland for scientific study and for breeding. They are still very rare and over time their meat will become less distinct as they face adversity. I have tried hard to find an online outlet for Ossabaw pork – much of it is only sold locally or direct to restaurants. Because I am intrigued by this story and really, really want to taste this meat, I have managed to track down one farm that sells Ossabaw pork chops and, if you contact them, they may (fingers crossed) ship it. www.canecreekfarm.us (FYI – Ossabaw is a private island and not open to visitors).
I have been at events recently where I was served an appetizer on a spoon – a delicious ceviche, just a mouthful, in one case – but there are many, many other things that can be served on a spoon – a shrimp on top of cocktail sauce, bacon-wrapped scallops, little crab cakes, small desserts – let your creativity run riot. The spoons come in various shapes, some round, some square and can be plastic or china, patterned or plain. I think that Japanese soup spoons are attractive to use with their various colors and designs. There is a lot of choice of all of the above at Amazon.com.
IL LABORATORIO DI GELATO in Ludlow Street, NYC (opposite the Tenement Museum) has a mind blowing selection of gelato. This tiny store is well worth a detour if you are in the area, but be bold and try a new flavor that you probably won’t see anywhere else – cheddar cheese, olive oil, grapenut, pink peppercorn, guinness, sambuca, basil, wasabi. They have a range of unusual sorbets too – celery, prosecco, cactus pear, pomegranate. Gelato is the Italian name for ice cream but it is not the same as ice cream. Gelato contains more milk, less cream, less fat than ice cream and because it is churned slower and longer it is denser too. All these factors combine to make gelato flavors more intense than comparable ice cream flavors.
CHEESEBOARDOER.COM, based locally in Riviera Beach is the perfect answer to your entertaining. They provide pre-prepared and artfully laid out cheese and charcuterie boards (and will ship overnight via Goldbelly anywhere in the US). The boards cater to different amounts of people and contain a curated selection of cheeses and meatsplus a delicious array of accompaniments – dried fruits such as figs and mango, a variety of interesting nuts – sesame almonds, Dijon pistachios – crystallized ginger, chocolate covered almonds. There is also a Vegan Cheeseboard choice. All you need to do is unwrap it and the bonus is you get to keep the wooden serving board. Entertaining has never been so easy. Makes a great and original gift.
I am really tempted to try THE MELTING POT in Boca Raton – it serves fondue. The menu starts with a cheese fondue followed by salad, then comes a choice of various meat or seafood fondues and ends with one of several chocolate fondue selections. Something a little bit different and it is now available ‘to go’, just reheat at home. The Melting Pot is a chain so you might find a location near you. Address is 5455 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. www.meltingpot.com.
I made a resolution at the start of the the year to try new spices. This month I tried SUMAC, a deep red, almost burgundy,spice made from dried and crushed red sumac berries (white sumac berries are poisonous). Its taste is likened to lemon but not as sour. Like a lemon does, sumac pops the flavor of dishes and cuts the fat, in lamb for example. Add it a few minutes before serving. Check the label on the jar to see it contains salt and if so cut back on your seasoning. It makes a very nice addition to a salad dressing (see below in Recipe of the Month).
COCO CHOCOLATIER, a specialist fine chocolate maker, is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It sources its chocolate from Columbia and the range of chocolate bars are beautifully wrapped in paper designed by independent artists. The bars are so attractive look at and the flavors are very unusual and tempting – cold brew coffee, haggis spice (!),sea salt and lime, lavender, gin & tonic, rose and black pepper are just a few. Obviously you can visit their wonderful store but the bars are also available mail order and in little gift packs. And then there is the Chocolate School. Every Saturday for two hours you can sign up to learn about chocolate and make your own chocolates – tasting is encouraged! Makes a wonderful, one-of-a-kind gift or a vacation experience.
If you have a branch of SUR LA TABLE near you, check to see if they give cooking classes (they do in West Palm Beach). I have taken a couple of classes and they are good and fun. There is plenty of choice of cuisine or kitchen techniques to choose from and they also encourage couples to come and cook together (it made the perfect gift for my son and daughter-in-law).
BOOK OF THE MONTH – Taste, My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
Very well written and engaging. Tucci is obviously consumed by all things food and curious to extend his knowledge and understanding. He has a lovely turn of phrase and is quite self-deprecating. The book is described ‘as a reflection on the intersection of food and life’ and is littered with personal anecdotes – what an interesting life he has led. Recipes are scattered throughout.
PRODUCT OF THE MONTH – Chinois Strainer
Sometimes you get a really fine, silky soup in a restaurant and yet my soups never achieve that same smoothness no matter whether I puree it in the food processor or use one of those handheld soup blenders. That is because I don’t have a Chinois strainer. This type of strainer is made of very fine mesh and shaped like an inverted cone. To use it, place the strainer into its stand and put a bowl underneath. Pour the soup into the strainer and push it through with the specially shaped pestle. This will remove any seeds or bits and any lumps of veg. can be forced through resulting in a restaurant quality smooth soup. I found one on Amazon but they are also available at Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma.
MOVIE OF THE MONTH – The Menu
Prepare to be scared – 12 people on an island for dinner, Ralph Fiennes as the chef – what could happen?
RECIPE OF THE MONTH – Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula, Bean and Feta Salad with a Sumac Dressing (serves 4)
I made a promise at the start of the year to experiment with more unusual spices. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a flavor not unlike lemon and is deep red in color. It is generally added to stews, soups, etc a few minutes before serving just as you might do with lemon juice to pop the flavor and cut the fat. Here, I used it in a dressing and was very happy with the result. Makes a great, light yet filling lunch.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
1 head of cauliflower – cut into medium size florets
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 oz. arugula
1 x can of cannellini beans – rinsed and drained
3 oz. feta cheese
Place the cauliflower florets in a large bowl, spoon over the oil, season and toss well together.
Tip the cauliflower mixture onto a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes, then stir it up and cook for another 15 minutes, until tender but not too soft.
1 tsp. sumac
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 clove of garlic – grated
3 tbsp. olive oil
Place the sumac in a small bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice, garlic and oil. Pour over salad, toss well and serve.