Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CSA Week 9 and its Uses

I have been seriously derelict in reporting on my CSA garden shares from Little River Market Garden this season. There are no excuses: my farmer, Muriel Olivares, somehow managed to keep things going even while giving birth to a beautiful baby girl right smack in the middle of the season. And she's even added more variety to this season's harvest, including new items like edamame and fresh ginger along with the usual panoply of greens, cabbages, heirloom tomatoes, root vegetables and herbs that we got last year.

So why haven't I done a single CSA post yet this season?

Well, it's partly because when you have tomatoes like these, there is no recipe that can possibly improve on them. You wash them, and then you pop them in your mouth like candy. Maybe halve them and salt them, drizzle them with olive oil if you must. Sure, I could do something more clever than that; but I don't. Even when I cook lately, it's been pretty simple stuff. Assembling a salad or braising some greens does not make for great reading.

Still and yet, I enjoy writing these CSA posts when I get around to doing so, and I especially like giving props to Muriel for the great things she does at Little River Market Garden. So here, then, is what happened to part of the latest garden share:

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Odd Couple Dinner - Daniel Serfer and Brad Kilgore at Blue Collar

That's just an example of the good-natured ribbing going on between chefs Danny Serfer and Brad Kilgore in the week leading up to their "Odd Couple" dinner at Serfer's Blue Collar restaurant. Why "Odd Couple"? Well, Kilgore is the culinary Felix Unger: before coming to Miami he worked at high-end Chicago places with a constellation of Michelin stars: Alinea, L20, Boka and Epic. When he was sous chef at Miami's Azul, Andrew Zimmern dubbed him "Wall Street" for his slick style and slicked-back hair. Yes, there are probably tweezers in his knife bag.

That would make Serfer the culinary Oscar Madison. His style is exactly as the name of his restaurant, tucked into the still-slightly-dodgy Biscayne Inn on Biscayne Boulevard, suggests: it's upscale diner food, straightforward, hearty, and if it's a little sloppy, well who cares? It'll still taste good. Truth is, Serfer's done the fine dining thing too, with several years at the now-closed Chef Allen's before opening his own place. Now he's cooking the food he wants to cook, and that people want to eat, as the popularity of Blue Collar will attest.

So when Brad and Danny decided to do a dinner together - possibly with some prodding from The Chowfather (who also "curated" some liquid refreshments) - "The Odd Couple" was a natural spin on it. Each chef ended up doing their own take on five different proteins, with desserts contributed by pastry chef Soroya Caraccioli (a/k/a Soroya Kilgore, who happens to be Brad's wife). It was a really fun meal where each chef stayed faithful to his style.

(You can see all my pictures in this Odd Couple Dinner flickr set).

Though the dinner wasn't billed as a competition, it's pretty much impossible to avoid comparisons, especially when eating the dishes side by side. So here's my take on each round, with some Iron Chef style commentary along the way (for another scorecard - and a really funny one - check out Chowfather's post on the Odd Couple dinner):


Right out the gate, both chefs were resorting to secret weapons. For Danny, it was a mini Portuguese muffin, something I've previously described as "the love child of an English muffin and brioche." It's the standard vehicle at Blue Collar for his great burger and the off-menu "Corben" sandwich. Here, it was the base for a "po'boy" of pulled stone crab meat, a smoked trout roe tartare sauce, all dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion. I didn't get a good picture, but I did get a good taste, and this was a great little sandwich.

Brad, meanwhile, went immediately to the nuclear option: bacon. A slab of cured and braised pork belly was the base for a mound of stone crab dressed in an uni-ricotta emulsion, topped with shavings of bottarga and snipped chives. I'm a sucker for pork and seafood combinations, and for uni, and for bottarga, and this was delicious, but I think Danny's po'boy did more to highlight the taste of the stone crab itself.

Round One: Danny.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cobaya Khong

I have never been to Thailand. I've not had the chance to eat from a floating market vendor or a Bangkok street stall. But when Chef Piyarat Potha Arreeratn (a/k/a "Chef Bee") talks about preparing the food he grew up eating as a child, I feel pretty comfortable using that dangerous buzzword - authentic.

Chef Bee is the chef at Khong River House, which played host to our latest Cobaya dinner the Thursday before last. As always, our marching orders were simple: cook the dishes that get you excited, that you don't otherwise have a chance to serve at your restaurant. Chef Bee's response was as passionate and heartfelt as any we've ever experienced.  The result was a rewarding meal that provided a view of Thai cuisine we aren't often afforded by Miami's Thai restaurants.

Our dinner started with a trip up the stairs of Khong, named for the Mekong River which winds its way through China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the comfortable upstairs hideaway,[1] a long table awaited, covered with blown-up photos from Chef Bee's trips back home. The bar was also set with some drinking snacks that would set the tone for the meal:

(You can see all my pictures from the meal in this Cobaya Khong flickr set.)

Dak Dae Tod are plump salt-and-pepper fried silk worm larvae. Mang Da Tod[2] are deep-fried water bugs, which chef Bee tossed with five-spice. Of the two, I genuinely enjoyed the former - the silkworm pupae had a pleasingly soft, almost creamy texture, and were as good a vehicle as any for the classic salt-and-pepper flavors. The water bug was more texturally challenging - the kind of papery feel of a shrimp head that's not quite been fried crispy enough to eat comfortably - but had an intriguing, almost floral flavor as you crunched down on its carcass which reminded me of elderflower. Though perhaps shocking to Western sensibilities, both are common Thai street snacks.

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