Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Local Rum as Well as Some Farmers Market Key Limes and Mint

Some things like chocolate brownies  and Tom Hanks movies are always decent. Sure, occasionally they are amazing but even at their worst, they’re still pretty good. I thought that was the case with mojitos but lately, I’ve tasted some great ones and some disappointing ones.  They run the gamut from refreshing and pleasantly tart, to syrupy with essence of Aquafresh Extreme Clean. Probably better to shoot for the former. The limes and rum are of course the key players here and this is the first time I’ve spent a lot of time researching the best of both. The Sarasota farmers market has had local key limes the past few weeks. They are beautiful to look at and their tartness is somehow more interesting than that of regular limes. And the bottled stuff? Well, that’s not even in the same league as these guys.

Speaking of bottles, I started seeing bottles of rum from Drum Circle Distilling behind the bars at nicer restaurants. I picked up a bottle of the Siesta Key White rum for this recipe but I’m looking forward to tasting the gold one soon. It’s very clean tasting and was refreshing chilled on its own. It could only be made better with some fresh mint and key lime.

Last year, I posted a Cucumber Spritzer cocktail recipe in the middle of cucumber season. (It’s here if you have some cucumbers around.) Letting your farmers market findings guide your cocktail recipes is quite fun and the fresh mint that I’ve been seeing here lately has opened up lots of possibilities. And mint is one of those items that should sell itself at the market. Not only is it nice to look at, but the aroma of truly fresh mint coming from a farmer’s table is enough of a sales pitch and not one found very often at the supermarket.

The mixing is not difficult to do and of course the recipe can be adjusted to taste based on your guests’ preferences. I would advise though making a bit more than you think you need. Most people say they like mojitos but what they mean is that they love mojitos. That’s all well and good but make sure you pick up some extra key limes so you don’t disappoint anyone.

Key Lime Mojito (Makes 1)

Cut 4 Key Limes in half

Squeeze the juice from 2 of them into a cocktail shaker

Add the ‘squeezed’ halves as well as the remaining 2 limes

Muddle limes along with 3 mint sprigs and 2 teaspoons of simple syrup (more if you like it sweeter)

Add an ounce and a half of good quality light rum and pour over ice

Add a splash of soda water on top and garnish with an additional mint sprig

Get ready to make the next one.

Citrus Glazed Gulf Prawns–These Colors Don’t Run

I love using the Seafood Watch program on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

It’s a great tool for figuring out what seafood is the most sustainable based on the type of fish, the country of origin and on whether or not it is wild or farmed (some farmed choices are indeed better). I love shrimp but there are serious problems with most of the shrimp from overseas. Gulf Shrimp though? The sweet and near-perfect looking specimens found along Florida’s Gulf Coast are not only some of the most delicious shellfish I’ve ever tasted, they are among the most sustainable as well. So it’s time to wave the American Flag and start buying American when we want shrimp. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Toby Keith song or at least a talk-radio segment about the importance of buying American shrimp. In fact, I think we wasted far too much time making fun of arugula-eaters as being out of touch. Perhaps it is those buying shrimp from 10,000 miles away we should be taking a look at. They might be the real socialists.

Fresh and local citrus is also very good in Florida. It’s sweeter, nicer looking, and I’m certain healthier than what we get in our supermarkets in the North. Oranges and grapefruits are  good for breakfast but because $4 buys you a very large bag of them, I wanted to find some other uses for them as well.

The jumbo prawns are on the pricy side. They’re going to run you around $8/serving. That’s more than many of the proteins I write about here but still less than most entrees in a mediocre restaurant. So drape that American flag around yourself  and get yourself some Gulf Shrimp. You’ll be happy with your meal I’m certain. Also, it will keep people from thinking you’re a communist.

Citrus Glazed Gulf Prawns $16/2 servings = $8/Serving

Peel prawns and set aside

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (the higher smoke point helps here) over high heat

While oil is heating, juice 1 orange and wedge of grapefruit into a small bowl

Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and a hefty pinch of cracked pepper

Toss prawns in bowl with sauce

One by one, shake off the excess sauce and put in pan (be careful, it may spatter a bit)

Cook for 2 minutes per side or until just cooked through in the middle

Remove prawns from pan and turn heat to low

Add remaining sauce and cook for a minute

Add 2 teaspoons of butter and whisk into sauce

Toss prawns back in the pan to coat with the cooked sauce

Serve on a platter with a citrus wedge if desired

Pasta with Roasted Peppers and Local Pecans

Thanks to all who have submitted roasted red pepper ideas! It seems many of you like to eat them in pasta. Me too. One of my favorite recipes involves tossing the peppers with some pasta and toasted pine nuts. There are local pecans here in Florida so I thought I’d give those a try. So let’s get started: Step one. Toss peppers with pasta and toasted pecans. Step two. There isn’t a step two because that’s it. Once you’ve roasted the peppers at the beginning of the week, this can be a very fast weeknight meal. If you can get local pasta, even better. I’m doing mine with a local pasta called Peperonata Pasta.  If you can’t find local pasta, no worries. Enjoy the local peppers and thank your farmer next time you see him or her.

Spaghetti with Roasted Peppers and Pecans (serves 2)

Set salted water on stove to boil

In a small frying pan, toast  1/2 cup pecans nuts over medium heat until fragrant (watch carefully as they burn quickly!)

Add 2 tablespoons of  Olive oil and a clove or two of minced garlic

Add a ½ cup of roasted red peppers and sauté over medium heat until pasta is ready

Drain pasta and toss with peppers and pecans

I like this dish with some chopped fresh parsley or basil but you could just as as easily use tarragon, oregano, or whatever you have around

If you want to add chili flakes, sprinkle them on at the end

Grass-Fed Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Atrocious Knife Skills

When it gets really cold out, we sometimes slack off a bit. We might hit the snooze button a couple extra times or procrastinate when we have to do our chores. For me, my knife skills go down the drain as the temperature falls. My knife skills aren’t that great to begin with, but I can make pretty uniform slices for a gratin and I can even fillet a fish pretty well. But that’s for warm weather. In the cold, I put ingredients on the cutting board and bat them around with my knife as if they are little cat toys. Eventually, I notice that everything is a bit smaller than it was when I began and that seems to be good enough. Into the pot it goes!

I exaggerate a little of course but there are days when I don’t want to spend much time prepping. I noticed some stew meat at the farmer’s market from New York Beef. I like these folks because they like to talk about how their meat changes with the seasons. Sometimes the beef is better marbled than other times and sometimes there are cuts that seem to be especially good that very day. They also do a great job aging their steaks which makes the flavor of their beef even richer. I believe the stew meat is pieces of chuck but I’m not sure. This recipe can be made with most cuts although I would save the more pricey tenderloin and strip steak for a different dish.

I had no beef stock on the house but I had a batch of turkey stock in the freezer leftover from the holidays. If you’re using good quality poultry bones and trimmings, your stock will be plenty rich enough for the stew. I also had around a third of a bottle of red wine that needed to be used up. Good enough. Most of us have plenty of root vegetables available to us this time of year as well as good potatoes. If your farmer has turnips, go for it. If he or she has only celery root, that works well here too. Follow your farmer’s lead and get ready to do some sloppy prep work.

So with some grass-fed stew beef, some winter veggies, frozen stock, and some VERY poor knife skills, I knew I had a good cold weather meal in my future. When it warms up, I’ll be ready to chiffonade some basil, but until the temperature breaks 0 degrees, I’m happy hacking away.

Grass-Fed Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Atrocious Knife Skills (Farmers Market Bill $15/6 servings = $2.50/serving)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil in a frying pan on high heat

Season around a pound of stew meat salt and pepper and dust with flour

Brown the meat for 2-3 minutes per side and transfer to a dutch oven (if necessary, brown the meat in batches to make sure it all gets good color)

Using poor knife skills, chop 1.5 pounds or so of carrots, turnips, onion, celery root, potatoes, and parsnips or any combination

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and brown veggies for 7 minutes or so stirring occasionally (they’ll pick up some of the meat flavors)

Transfer veggies to the dutch oven

Deglaze frying pan with 2 cups of stock and a cup of red wine, scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure you get the yummy bits

Pour stock/wine mixture into dutch oven with another 4 cups of stock

Add 3 bay leaves and 2-3 whole, peeled garlic cloves, and a hefty dose of salt and pepper

Simmer on stovetop over low to medium heat or place in oven at 200 degrees

Simmer uncovered for 3 hours or longer if you can

Taste again for seasoning and salt and pepper again if necessary

Serve with some toasted ciabatta

The leftovers are even better

What am I, chopped liver? If so, hopefully from pastured, local chickens.

When I was home in NH, I visited the Concord Farmers Market. NH has a great list of all the markets in the state by date and season so it’s not at all hard to find a market near you. Especially when you’re in NH. That’s partly because there are tons of great markets but also because NH is around the same size as the average flat screen television. At the Concord, NH market, I found a farmer selling his own pastured chickens.

In NYC, the poultry farmers often sell out of livers before I’m able to get there. Some of them go to restaurants and others to the many home cooks who love them. But I’m not sure if I know anyone in NH who likes liver. I vaguely remember my dad saying “That’s the one food I won’t eat. Too strong. Ok, I’m going out to chop some wood.” To be honest, I was repulsed at the thought of eating liver in any form up until a few years ago. But I decided to go for it at the market. “We don’t have livers because they’re sitting at home in my freezer. They just don’t sell,” the farmer told me. I asked if he could bring a few in the next Saturday and we would buy them then. He agreed and we came back the next Saturday at noon. “Sorry. I don’t have any livers. I brought them in but they sold out first thing in the morning.”  I guess there was something of a liver revolution going on in NH but unfortunately, it requires one to be at the market early in the AM.

I made it a point to get livers back in NY and was fortunate enough to find some from John Fazio, a farmer known for his ducks and rabbits. He recently started raising chickens (which are also very good) and sells the livers separately. Livers taste ‘meaty.’ I liken them more to a very rich sausage than anything else. With good local onions and some toasted bread, you’re good to go.

I have not given up on the livers from NH, but unfortunately the weekly farmer’s market does not return until the spring. When it does reopen, I will take my place on the front lines of the NH liver revolution. Live free or die eating good livers from local chickens.

Chicken Liver and Onions $9/6 Servings = $1.50/serving

Trim 3/4 pound of livers and blot dry with paper towel

Chop 2 large local onions

Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat in cast iron skillet

Salt and pepper the livers heavily and add to pan

Saute, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes

Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and add onion to pan

Increase heat to high and saute for another 5 minutes

Turn heat off and add livers back to pan along with 2 ounces of bourbon or cognac

Turn heat to low and cook for 3 minutes or just until alcohol is cooked out

Pour contents of pan into food processor and run on high until mixture forms a smooth puree

Spoon mixture into ramekins and refrigerate

To serve, toast 6 slices of bread

Spoon or spread liver onto toasts and enjoy

Roast Jackfish over Bad-Ass Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes are bad ass. Their red and yellow counterparts whine as soon as it gets a little chilly out. Some of the really lame ones even shrivel up and die. But green tomatoes are not so fragile and I even found one that had been sitting in my fridge for over a week and half that was perfectly fine. They do not need to be handled delicately and can often be found fried (and in the title of a good movie with Kathy Bates). I’m pretty sure that they laugh at the rest of the summer veggies that complain as soon as long sleeve season begins. Yes, green tomatoes can tolerate a lot. So can whole coldwater fish.

The folks at the farmers market had a fish called Jackfish which looked dense and that I thought could stand up to the green tomatoes. Having never cooked the fish before, I consulted one of my favorite seafood cookbooks Fish and Shellfish by James Peterson. Jim’s book is great because after each recipe, it lists some comparable fish that can be substituted if the exact fish in the recipe is not available. I’ve found that having books like this makes it far easier to eat in season because it reminds me that most recipes can be adjusted to better showcase what’s available seasonally and locally. Anyway, Jim’s book recommends 15 minutes of cooking time in a 400-450 degree oven per inch of thickness. My fish was about an inch thick. No complicated math involved.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be excited for the first tomatoes next season. But for a couple more weeks, these resiliant little green guys will more than suffice.

Roast Jackfish over Bad-Ass Green Tomatoes

Total Market Bill $15/3 Servings = $5/serving

Preheat oven to 425

Give a pound of green tomatoes and 3 cloves of garlic a rough chop

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an oven safe skillet over medium heat

Add tomatoes and garlic along with some salt and pepper and saute for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes become slightly soft

Add a cup of white cooking wine, beer, or stock along with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a pinch of curry powder

Sprinkle both sides of a 1.5-3 pound whole fish generously with salt and pepper

When oven has preheated, lay fish on top of tomatoes and roast for 15 minutes per inch of thickness

I check my fish with a meat thermometer and I’ve found that once it reaches 130 degrees or so, you’re good to go. No need to check the tomatoes. They are fine whether they are sitting in a refrigerator, in a 425 degree oven, or anywhere in between.

Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Cast Iron Frittata

When people describe things as ‘lingering,’ they are usually describing things they wish would go away. (“I can’t hang out tonight because I still have this lingering head cold, but maybe next week I can come over and watch CSI Miami.”) But the farmer’s market tomatoes seem to be lingering well into October this year and they are more than welcome to stay. The last few times I’ve been shopping, I’ve found myself with a fun mishmosh of groceries. There are new greens in season now, lots of herbs, and the beginning of the hearty squashes of fall and winter. It’s sometimes nice to have some recipes that allow you to use whatever you have around. I love soups for this but they can take a long time. I wanted a quicker meal that was inexpensive and fun to serve to a group. I also wanted another recipe that would make great use of end of the season tomatoes which could be a little softer as well as the delicious local cheeses that I’ve been seeing lately at the market.

I think of frittatas like quiches without the pain of the crust. I also don’t bother with a non stick pan as I’m not quite sure what might happen to my body if I ingest teflon regularly (although I’d like to grow a tail someday). But a well seasoned cast iron skillet is ideal for cooking egg dishes and the food lifts right off the surface. I also love the fact that the dish looks so rustic and guests seem to love almost anything served in an iron skillet. So get your cast iron pans out, see what your farmers market has to offer and let’s get cooking.

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Cast Iron Fritatta

Farmers Market Bill $12/6 servings = $2/serving

Crack 6 fresh eggs into a bowl and beat with whisk or fork

Slice 2 large tomatoes thinly

Crumble 3 oz. or so of goat cheese in a small bowl

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 6-8 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat

Add eggs and a heafty pinch of salt and pepper

Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes then sprinkle half the goat cheese over the eggs

Cook for an additional minute and then layer tomato slices throughout

Cook until fritatta has set (around 3 more minutes)

Sprinkle the remaining goat cheese over the top

If frittata is too loose, finish in 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or so

Sprinkle the top with some fresh herbs if you have them. If not, it’s fine by itself. Well, better than fine. It’s really as delicious lunch. I enjoyed this one with my grandmother.