Ah, Life in the slow lane, at last. School’s out, we are in Florida, took a long walk on the beach this afternoon with the dogs (who have come down here with us for the first time), and all’s right with my world.
I meant to make a long detailed post about the Lebanese feast I wrote about here, but now it seems so long ago that I will only say that is was wonderful fun cooking with Cindy and Candy, that the food was great (and way too much!!) and that the evening ended with me laughing as much as I have laughed in a long time. It doesn’t get much better than that. I have some good pictures of the food, which stuck pretty close to the menu I posted before, but I didn't save them properly on my laptop, so I can't post them.
Since then, and it seems like a year ago, there have been some other very good food moments in my life. I had my food and politics class over for dinner (the very next day after the feast, which is one reason I never got the post done) and made the squash and shiitake mushroom pasta dish I usually make since it uses good ingredients I can get locally and that’s what the class ends up being about. But these students asked me to cook something with grass-fed beef since we had just finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma and they were curious about what it tasted like. Fortunately, Sahara Mart is carrying Fiedler Farms beef again, so I was able to get two large chuck roasts and cut it up into stew for 22. Browned it and braised it in red wine and added a million garlic cloves and onions and mushrooms and cooked it for hours. It was pretty good, though I am not sure anyone could tell that the beef was different from the kind they usually get. Interestingly, though, even some vegetarians were willing to give it a go since I could vouch for the humane raising of the animal. And of course, they knew my story on that.
We also had our first meal at FARMbloomington, Daniel Orr’s new restaurant. Daniel has quite the resumé, but he really isn’t trying to put his cooking skills to the haute cuisine test in this place. He bills it as “Real food for real people” and it is – delicious, well-cooked Hoosier-bistro-type food, relying on local ingredients when he can get them. We tried a lot of the tapas items from the bar as well as most of the dishes on the limited dinner menu (you don’t want to know what we managed to spend!) and the highlights were some fabulous fries, with chilies and garlic in a saffron aioli, a great skirt steak (Fiedler Farms again) with celery root puree and onion rings, a terrific pizza with wild mushrooms and feta, woodsy and wonderful, the salmon tartare (Daniel shines with raw fish preparations), prawns with an excellent fruity and spicy dipping sauce, and some really good spiced nuts. The desserts were good too, but honestly, by the time we got to them I could hardly breathe, let alone taste. I look forward to seeing what else he does with the place when it officially opens on January 14, but the initial signs are good – a great thing for Bloomington to have another casual, good restaurant that relies on local stuff.
What else? We had a yummy meal at Avenue Sea, here in Apalachicola on Christmas Eve (a place I have written about here and here.) Two of us started with oysters – clearly the best of the bay – fat, fresh and perfect. They were dressed with a radish julienne and the juice of a kumquat-like fruit that I think they called a Calamondin Orange. [That’s them in the pic at the start of this post.] Anyway, the oyster-lovers among us said they were among the best oysters they had ever had – pretty high praise from these picky folks. I had the chestnut soup because I think David Carrier’s soups are superb and I never miss one. I had this one last Christmas Eve too and it is lovely. Then salads – a shrimp salad with arugula that I had a bite of and that was very good. I ordered a plain green herby salad with a cabernet vinaigrette. I am not precisely sure why this vinaigrette is so good but it is outstanding – and I order it every time I am there. For main courses most of us had the grouper on mashed potatoes with wild mushrooms. It was moist and delicious and though I am not a fan of huge slabs of protein on my plate, even when they come from the sea, this was just right. Desserts were also good, as always. Mine was a crème puff filled with a tart, lemony cream and surrounded with little triangles of citrus. Gorgeous and delicious. We are going to go try the bar menu there tonight, and then we will be going back tomorrow with the friends of some friends – folks actually that I met on the Internet through this blog. I am sure I will be reporting back on that.
For Christmas dinner we ate here at home (our Florida home, that is.) A trip to Island View Seafood in Eastpoint was a delight. We made Alligator Point clams steamed in white wine with garlic and tomatoes. I threw some butter into the broth and didn’t think about the fact that it was salted butter, but with the saltiness of the clams it was almost too much. Another reason to remember to get unsalted butter! After that I made a shrimp dish with pasta. I slit the shrimp almost all the way through and seared them hot and quick in a skillet in (salty) butter and olive oil. They cooked in a second and a half and I pulled them out and set them aside. Sautéed some shitake and button mushrooms in more butter until they browned up, added some minced garlic and scallions and chopped red peppers, and some diced roma tomatoes. Seasoned it with a nip of good curry powder (it wasn’t distinguishable in the final product but it gave it some good depth), a quick hit of cayenne, and a splash of white wine. Cooked it down and squeezed in half a fat orange’s worth of juice and then swirled in a bunch more butter to get a nice creamy sauce. Added the shrimp back in just to get hot, squirted in some lemon to freshen it up, and tossed it all with some linguini. It was super, super good.
So, that’s what’s new on our plates these days. I am on leave this next semester (time to revise our American politics textbook) so I hope to have a more flexible schedule for cooking, eating and blog-posting. How about you – what delicious things did you eat over the holiday?