Monday, July 31, 2006
They Call Me Floribbean Frank...
I'm the king of the Papaya fruit
When I fry the conch fritters, I go
Yes sir, I'm Floribbean Frank
I'm the craze of my (semi-)native state
When I start to grill, everything goes
Today, Mousekeeters, in case you haven't already figured it out for yourselves, is Floribbean Day!
Floribbean is a sort of fusion cuisine found mostly in southern Florida, where the Carribean and Cuban influences dominate. Which means we get lots of black beans and mangos!! Yeah for the mangos!! Mangos rule! Worship the mango!
Our menu (and what a menu!) for today was as follows:
Conch Fritters with Tropical Fruit Chutney
Black Bean Soup with Smoked Shrimp and Jalapeno Cream
Marinated Lamb Chops with Caribbean Potato Salad and Tomatillo Rice
Oven-roasted Flounder with Jamaican Jerk Spices, Tropical Fruit Coulis and Spicy Gazpacho Salsa
Eggplant Rollatini with Sundried Tomato-Herb Vinagrette
Key Lime Pie
I apologize in advance for not having any recipes to share yet, because we didn't really get the recipes to keep. Chef Regional said he would get us copies of these, which are not in our class syllabus.
The Conch Fritters were actually Clam Fritters, because we didn't have any conch...not that I think it really matters, because every time I've ever had conch fritters, I've never been able to identify the conch. I could be getting diced rubber band fritters for all I know. However, the fritters were tasty, but the fruit chutney thing was truly the bomb! It was a combination of mango, pineapple, papaya, diced red onion, brown sugar, a little vinegar, and some cinnamon, I think...we were sort of winging it. You combine the ingredients and simmer over a low heat until the sugar has melted and all is heated through.
The Black Bean soup was pretty tasty, too. We kept spooning it over the tomatillo rice instead of eating it separately. The rice started out as the regular rice pilaf we do, with the addition of chopped tomatillos. Then, you finish it with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.
The Jerk Fish involved a "wet" jerk rub, and I'm not sure what all was in that, because I was making the custard for the Key Lime pie and couldn't leave the stove and my whisking. The fruit coulis was a combination of pureed mango and papaya, and probably pineapple, too. The Gazpacho Salsa was essentially the ingredients for gazpacho in fine dice and brunois (peppers, jalapenos, onions along with some fruit...basically everything that goes in gazpacho but the tomatoes).
The Caribbean Potato Salad was odd. It had potatoes. It had red, yellow, and green peppers. It had slivered fennel root and red onion. And, it had orange sections...all in some light vinagrette-like dressing. It was odd...not bad odd, but just odd and different.
I actually liked the lamb chops, as well. I'm usually not a big lamb fan--too gamey for my tastes--but these chops had been marinated in olive oil and garlic, then grilled, and they were really good. I think the key might be not overcooking the lamb. It seems to me that the more done it's cooked, the gamier it is. Or, it could just be *my* warped taste buds.
I did the eggplant rollatinis, and they were a gigantic hit, if I do say so myownself. Which surprised the heck out of me, because I was thinking they might be a little bland. I sliced 2 medium eggplant lengthwise, marinated them in olive oil, chopped garlic, and oregano. The eggplant slices need to be on the thinnish side, but not so thin that they stick to the grill and burst into flames. Oooh, Flambeed Eggplant ala Poodlebugz was not what I was shooting for!
Anyway, you grill them for about 30-45 seconds on each side--just enough to soften them up so they can be rolled up (that's the rollatini part). Chill them and the filling for about 30 minutes. I made the filling while the slices were marinating, and it consists of 1 cup of ricotta and a bunch of herbs. The recipe called for fresh basil and fresh oregano, and we were out of oregano (the supply truck was late again). I chopped up some basil, some parsley, and some thyme and threw that in with 3-4 cloves of minced garlic as opposed to the measly 2 the recipe called for, salt, and fresh ground black pepper.
After the eggplant cools down, you spread them with some of the ricotta mixture and roll them up, skinny side first, and place them seam side down on your cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the rollatini in half. Stand the two halves up on their ends, so you can see the spiral pattern. Spoon sundried-tomato herb vinagrette over and enjoy. It's sort of a cold antipasta type thing. I made the vinagrette with 1/2 cup extra virgin oil oil, 1/4 balsamic vinegar, 2-3 minced cloves of garlic, some of the basil/thyme/parsley mixture, a couple of tablespoons of chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, salt & pepper to taste, which I whisked together. Then I chunked up some fresh cherry tomatoes and threw those in for the finish.
Everybody was raving about the eggplant, even the advanced baking class said they were good when they tried them. Which made me feel warm and fuzzy, because that's what this cooking thing is all about...the warm fuzzies. And chocolate. And butter. Let's not forget the cheese, either.
Speaking of chocolate, the Chiclet and I were responsible for the Key Lime pie. (We should have used Curlytop Kim's recipe with the Eagle Brand!!). First, I had to make a graham cracker crust...which was somewhat difficult for some reason. I ended up having enough crumb mixture to make 3 pie crusts. I have no idea how this happened, because I usually get my pie crust from elves, and it's always ready when I'm ready!
I was having some technical difficulties with the pie crust, (I know!! It was a freakin' graham cracker crust!), so I had 3 chefs giving me advice on it, plus the recipe directions. Head Chef was watching me from the sidelines and kind of telling me in an exasperated tone about some technique using another pie pan, until he realized that I wasn't in baking this quarter, so then he came over and gave me some hands on assistance. He walked away for a minute, and Chef Regional wanders by and says something about "did I melt the butter" and that's how he did it. Introductory Chef was in the kitchen as well, and she came over to borrow my scissors and told me it was " just graham cracker crumbs" so I couldn't screw it up. Then, Head Chef comes back to continue the lesson in making graham pie crusts, and the Baking Chef walks by and takes a look at it. He had this "what the hell" look, and I quickly said that I hadn't had baking yet, so he forgave me. Sheesh! Now you see why I want to get my crust from elves. Head Chef did point out that he'd make an elf out of me yet. Joy.
(The Big Issue with the dough: Somehow, my dough had gotten too doughy and wet when it should have been more dry and crumbly...sort of cement instead of sand. I was following recipe directions that had me using a mixer and cutting in the butter with the mixer, 1 piece at a time. My first instinct was to have cut the butter in with my hands, but the recipe said to use a mixer. What was the first thing that Head Chef did when he came over to "help"? He got more graham crumbs and started cutting them in with his hands. Lesson Learned: Go with the instinct! Besides, what are they doing to do? Fire me?)
Then, the weird recipe said to melt some bittersweet chocolate and coat the bottom of the pie crust (you were beginning to wonder what this had to do with chocolate, weren't you?). At first, this sounds like a fine and wonderful idea--chocolate and pie--how could it be wrong? It could be wrong in that the chocolate overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the tart Key Limes. The chocolate force was strong within the pie, and no amount of mitichlorians was gonna help it. The filling was pretty good--I actually had to make a custard-- even with no Eagle Brand in sight, but it was lost in the chocolate. We made a white chocolate and whipped cream mousse topping and sprinkled toasted macadamia nuts over the top to finish it. It did look pretty, but the chocolate just overwhelmed it. Chef Regional even admitted he was not fond of that recipe, but had yet to find one he really like for class.
I think this was our best day yet, as far as cooking and plating. The food looked really good and tasted pretty good, too. Chef said that some of it even looked like "restaurant food," which made us all feel warm and fuzzy. : )
By now, I'm sure you've noticed the glaring omission of the most important part of the Floribbean culture and cuisine. Or at least what I think of, when I think of Miami and beaches...drinks with umbrellas!!!! Where was this?
Or, even something like this?
I don't even want to know what this is!!