Thursday, November 24, 2011

CSA Week 1 and its Uses

I started buying vegetables from a CSA two years ago, and set out with the best of intentions to blog the manner of consumption of each week's vegetable share. In year one, that lasted for about six weeks, with sporadic posts thereafter. In year two, I faded after only two weeks. You can observe, and then mock, my feeble output by searching the "CSA" label.

I'm back at it again this year, but with a new supplier. I signed up this season for a CSA with Little River Market Garden, a pocket-sized little farm on a residential lot near Miami's Little River. It's less than five miles away from my house, which somehow seemed more in keeping with the spirit of a CSA. It's nice to be able to pick up right from the farm, instead of a neighborhood drop-off point, to see the stuff growing right there, and to say hi every week to the person growing it (Hi Muriel!).

Little River Market Garden

The season just started this week - yes, South Florida growing seasons are completely inverted, so we'll be getting summer vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes in December - and I picked up our first share from Little River last Saturday.

CSA week 1

Black sapotes, green beans, breakfast radishes, a leafy green whose identity I've already forgotten, roselle leaves (a/k/a Jamaican sorrel a/k/a hibiscus), lemongrass, ripe and unripe papaya, two different kinds of zucchini, oregano, and purple long beans. Not a bad haul.

The thing that I both enjoy, and which drives me to distraction, about doing a CSA is the question that is posed every week: "What the heck am I going to do with this stuff?" Sometimes it's a vegetable I've never cooked before, like these long beans. Or it may be something I don't really get excited over. Zucchini, I'm looking at you.

Now, I don't kid myself - I'm a much better eater than I am a cook. So to the extent I can keep this going longer than two weeks, I'm not promising much in the way of culinary fireworks. But if I can keep it up, then these posts will at least provide a bit of a window into our wacky, upside-down growing season here in South Florida, and maybe even a tiny bit of inspiration too.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

P.I.G. 3

It's no secret we're big fans here at FFT of (1) pig and (2) Chef Jeremiah. The two will be coming together for a third reunion on Sunday November 27 for P.I.G. #3.

"P.I.G." = "Pork Is Good," Chef Jeremiah's celebration of all things porcine. For a bit of a preview, you can read my takes on P.I.G. #1 and P.I.G. #2, or you can just go and experience it for yourself.

The festivities begin at 4pm on Sunday, November 27, right around the time you start to get tired of Thanksgiving leftovers. There will be plenty of porky goodness being served from Chef Jeremiah's gastroPod and Ms. Cheezious, desserts from Coolhaus, a cash bar tended by Bar Lab, and music by Cog Nomen. Location: 210 NE 65th Street in Little Haiti.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Naoe Revisited - November 2011

Chef Kevin Cory

When I wrote about my first visit to Naoe shortly after it opened, it felt much like recalling a dream with near-perfect lucidity from the night before. Though I've posted about Naoe since then, I've found it increasingly difficult to capture the experience in words - or new words, anyway. It's not that each meal is any less exceptional than the first; they have all been outstanding. Rather, there is such a pristine simplicity and purity to Chef Kevin Cory's style that it evades my descriptive abilities.

This is not about high-tech cooking methods. It's not about surprising flavor combinations. It's just about the best ingredients that can be found, prepared with thought, sensitivity and care.

I was back to Naoe again last week and had what may have been my best meal yet. As has been the case since the 17-seat restaurant opened, the meal followed the same pattern. The menu offers no choices other than a list of drinks: Sapporo on tap, a selection of sakes from Chef Cory's family in Japan, Japanese soft drinks like Ramune or Calpico. Dinner begins - about a half hour after you're seated - with a bento box of various treats accompanied by a soup (still priced at $26 like when Naoe opened 2 1/2 years ago), followed by a procession of sushi until you say "Uncle."

cobia sashimi

This time, the bento featured cobia sashimi, cut a bit thick to accentuate the snap in the texture of the raw fish. Alongside, ribbons of seaweed, a julienne of shiso, freshly grated wasabi, and a rare seasonal treat, kazunoko (herring roe), the strips of delicate eggs with a wonderful pop to their texture.


The next compartment housed a variety of cooked items: shirako (cod milt), simmered in soy and sake with a touch of sansho pepper; grilled sanma (a/k/a saury or pike mackerel), tsubugai (whelk), eggplant, served cold, lotus root, carrot, and a chestnut coated in little beads of mullet roe.

The remaining compartments held a tranche of cobia, steamed with a mantle of gooey mountain potato and a jelled dashi broth, studded with gingko nuts and topped with slivers of mitsuba, a delicate Japanese herb; and sardine rice, with slivers of koji-pickled daikon. A savory cup of shiitake mushroom broth, inflected with a hint of lemon peel, was served alongside.

(continued ...)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cobaya Cabrera

When I wrote about Chef Alberto Cabrera's latest venture, The Local Craft Food & Drink, I described him as a "culinary mercenary." That was by no means intended as criticism. Fact is, Chef Cabrera has been through a lot of kitchens. They include some of South Florida's finest: he worked his way up to chef de cuisine at Baleen in its heyday while Robin Haas was there, was with Norman Van Aken at the original Norman's in Coral Gables, and spent time at Sergi Arola's short-lived Miami outpost of La Broche before opening up Karu & Y, back what seems a lifetime ago in 2005. After that, he had several lower-profile consulting type gigs before coming back to the attention of Miamians with The Local.

I like what Chef Cabrera is doing at The Local, but it only scratches the surface of his abilities. It's exactly the kind of situation that we created Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs for. So when Blind Mind got him interested in doing a dinner, I expected good things would come of it. He not only put together a great ten-course lineup; he also found us our first genuinely "underground" location, in the cellar of La Bottega in Coconut Grove.

I did not get any good pictures of the stone-walled, bottle lined cellar space, nor of Chef Cabrera, nor of mixologist David Ortiz, who poured a Bond-worthy Vesper for everyone to start our dinner, and most of my food pictures are plagued by shadows and poor focus. You can see all my shadowy, fuzzy pictures in this Cobaya Cabrera flickr set.

head cheese

We started with headcheese, an item that can sometimes be found among the charcuterie choices at The Local. But where I described that version as "Headcheese 101," this was the advanced class: larger, tender chunks of meat, fat, and other bits (the occasional ribbons of ear with a faint snap to them), bound by meaty gelatin. I love this stuff.

foie gras brioche

Dabs of spicy mustard and verdant twists of pea tendrils completed the communal plating, along with loaves of a foie gras brioche, the foie fat substituted for butter and contributing aroma and richness. The orange centerpieces on the table were actually further garnish, slivers of assertively spiced pickled carrots which I found refreshing and addictive.

maine sea urchin

This is the kind of dish that would probably never fly at The Local: Maine sea urchin, nestled over a corn custard, topped with a dashi froth and paired with compressed melon, a ginger flower, and a sheet of crispy yuba (tofu skin). I liked the interplay of textures and flavors, the melon and the dashi in particular echoing the uni's own combination of marine and sweet, fruity notes.

cured foie gras

Maybe my favorite course of the night: cured foie gras, creamy and rich with just a hint of bitter mineral tang; country duck ham, salty and meaty; arugula with a peppery, grassy bite, dressed in a duck fat vinaigrette to reinforce the underlying motif; batons of pickled mango and a long smear of scarlet beet purée to provide just the right contrapuntal sweet, tart and earthy notes. I wanted more of this before I even finished it.

(continued ...)