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Monday, January 30, 2012

SPOTTED: Haggis and other Scottish crisps at Fresh Market

Everyone has their vacation rituals.  Some people like to try the local beer or spirit.  Others try the local sport.  Me, my way of getting to know the locals is trying their local chips (or crisps, depending where you are).  From jamon serrano flavor in Spain to aged chevre in France, it's a fun way to pick up local tastes.

And now those tastes are now being exported.  Spotted at The Fresh Market are crisps (not chips mind you) with typical Scottish flavor profiles.  Those flavors: haggis, angus beef and mature cheddar.  Yes, haggis crisps have hit our shores, just in time for your Superbowl party.  And what could go better with guacamole than a chip that tastes like beef?  It'd be like a taco sans tortilla and mess. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

TASTED: Local tropical preserves from Ferme du Rochelois

Miami has an abundance of local produce that often gets overlooked by much of the public. Part of it may have to do with lack of availability as local supermarket chains here are incredibly subpar and don't really bother with searching out local product.  Another may just be unfamiliarity with what grows around us.  Or it could even be that it's just easier to head to the supermarket and buy an apple than it is to head to a farmers market to search out and learn about starfruit.  But as with many things in Miami, tastes are changing and people are slowly appreciating more and more what's around them.

A recent outting to the Pinecrest Farmers Market, one of the best in South Florida but, as with many others of its kind, prepared food and straight-from-wholesale produce vendors outnumbered local farmers by a longshot, was a little promising. Aside from Bee Haven Farms' usual killer assortment of locally grown mainstream produce (tomatoes, greens) and tropical only finds (canistels, rangpur limes) there was a small, minimally decorated stall that you can easily miss. In that stall you'll find an assortment of jams and jellies made exclusively from local product.

The producer is a small company called Ferme du Rochelois (Rochelois' Farm) located closeby in Homestead.  You won't see grape or strawberry here, what you'll see find preserves made from starfruit, mangos and guava made with care by Haiti native "Cookie" (aka Cukita Bellande).

I tried a couple of Cookie's preserves and ended up buying jars of both.  I'm a big fan of monstera deliciosa, the ridiculously finicky and intimidating fruit that looks like a cucumber that got the same radioactive isotope that made Bruce Banner turn into the Hulk.  The fruit ripens in chunks and sheds its tiled shell in the process.  The fruit itself has a banana-like texture, and sure enough that's the closest comparison as far as taste, but when used in preserves, the faint pineapple flavor of the fruit comes out to give you a flavor you're never had before.  The second preserve that I went after was starfruit.  Cookie explained that her starfruit preserves are made with three types of the fruit - one sweet, one tart and one that I completely forgot.  Regardless, the result is a sweet/tart preserve, made sour by a bit of lime, that's more complex than any preserve I'd had before.  Time relegated me from getting through the rest of Cookies offerings, but if they're anything like the monstera and starfruit preserves, I'll be adding more to my collection on my next visit.

Ferme du Rochelois Facebook

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SPOTTED: Trader Joe's sets opening date for first Florida store

On February 10th the lives of Floridians will change forever.  On February 10th, Trader Joe's opens its first store in Florida (in a former Borders location in Naples).  Expat Californians, Bostonians, Chicagoans and, well, pretty much anyone from pretty much anywhere at this point, now living in Florida can get their fix of Rosenpop and Guildencrunch and Go Raw Trek Mix.  No longer will we need to stuff our luggage when we visit cities with a TJ's and pray that baggage handlers won't abuse them enough to break our precious jars of Artichoke Antipasto and Garlic Chipotle Salsa.  No longer will we have to ask, and in my case slightly beg, friends and family members to send me care packages filled with dark chocolate pistachio toffee and roasted seaweed snacks like I were a kid at some dismal summer camp.

For those not familiar with Trader Joe's here's a primer:

  • Founded in 1958 in Pasadena, California
  • Originally a health food store, the chain evolved to carry more eclectic, specialty items (I remember going to one after school and spitting out a chocolate bar after reading the label and seeing it was actually carob).
  • Trader Joe's sells the vast majority of its products under its own brand.  They will go to producers and buy a run of their product allowing them to brand it as a Trader Joe's product.
  • The company uses various monikers depending on the product.  French products like crepes may come from Trader Jacques, salsas may be from Trader Jose's, Italian from Trader Giotto and in a departure, Chinese products are branded Trader Ming's.
  • Other products, mainly beer and wine, keep their brand name.
  • Everything sold in the stores is prepackaged (i.e. no butcher counters or cheese counters, but heck, we're in Florida and not used to having nice butcher and cheese counters anyway).
  • Besides readymade products, there's assortments of olive oils, vinegars, salts, etc. for those that prefer to make their own meals.  Their California Garlic Powder is the best garlic powder you didn't know you needed.
  • Stores are set up in a vaguely tiki-Polynesian theme.  Workers wear Hawaiian floral shirts and are paid above industry standard wages with above-industry standard benefits.

Trader Joe's customers range from occasional to loyal to maniacal.  I fall into category #1 because I don't have a Trader Joe's anywhere near me so I can only visit on occasions when I'm in another city and the latter because when I visit a city with TJ's I drop at least two bills on things to take back.  There are fan pages, Facebook pages, cookbooks and probably tattoos dedicated to their stores, products and rumors of upcoming stores and products.

Although Whole Foods and Fresh Market, along with grocery sections in Target and Walmart, have recently made significant pushes into South Florida, this area remains a one horse town when it comes to supermarkets.  As with the "he who must not be named" character in the Harry Potter series, I abhor this supermarket chain so much that I refuse to use its name.  Suffice it to say that I hope Trader Joe's puts a dent in their business and enlightens some Floridians to what they've been missing.

All this excitement about one store in Naples seems premature, but when Trader Joe's goes into a region, they do so with a plan to expand.  One store in Atlanta in 2006 has grown to eight in 5 years in Atlanta metro alone (during that time the chain also opened in Raleigh, Charlotte and Chapel Hill, NC).  So there's a very good chance that we'll be seeing Trader Joe's across Florida very soon (and this is my my unabashed plea to open one in a central location in Miami) and when that happens, you'll have an even better chance of seeing an expat living in Florida smiling.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

PLACES: Paris: Intro to the Series

A few months ago, my fiancee and I took a once in a lifetime, actually more like the first of many, trip(s) to Paris.  It's a city like none other, and we were lucky to go at a very special time in the city's long and storied gastronomic history.  We experienced what some call a revolution, and others the beginning of the eventual evolution, in the dining culture at the epicenter of haute cuisine.  This is the first in a series of posts that will run through our experience.  Hopefully it'll help anyone looking at taking a trip to Paris with some suggestions.

Our trip ran the gamut from restaurants run by stalwarts to to those run by rebels and from small outdoor markets to giant department store marchés.  Pretty much every place we went could fall into one, and possibly more than one, of these categories:

  • The Classics
  • The Wine Bars
  • Bistronomy - the new guard
  • Bistronomy - the old guard
  • The 3 Stars
  • The Markets
  • The Shops

While Anthony Bourdain had Eric Ripert, Joel Robuchon and a cadre of interns getting him into impossible-to-reserve spots for his 100th episode of No Reservations, I was left to my own devices which were (i) elementary-at-best French and (ii) the Internet.  So one thing I absolutely wanted to make sure to include in this series of posts is a thank you to the websites, blogs, etc. that helped us in planning our trip and get the most out of Paris.

We made it to 20+ restaurants, bistros, cafes, markets and shops and many of the leads were thanks to these guys. So thanks much for your unwitting help and recommendations.

To be continued...

Monday, January 16, 2012

SPOTTED: Cuban Sandwich goes Macy's

Times are tough and retailers are doing what they can to move merchandise.  In the case of Macy's in Aventura, they're expanding the use of their panini press to include Cuban Sandwiches.  A search on their website shows the Bella panini press as a panini-centric appliance (note the ridges on the plates) with Cuban sandwich abilities, but the clever marketers at the Aventura store advertise the machine as a Cuban sandwich-maker first, panini maker second.  

Props on the creative marketing to Macy's, but they failed to take two things into account:
  • Cuban sandwiches are pressed on flat presses, not ones with ridges (otherwise, they'd be Cuban paninis)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TASTED: Badass Cajeta Soy Sauce Ice Cream

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The road to some of the world's favorite recipes is paved with people that f-cked something up.

  • Two French sisters cooking up food for guests at their hotel mucked up an apple pie and the result is what we know now as Tarte Tatin.
  • Caesar Cardini ran out of proper food to serve his guests at his Prohibition-era Tijuana restaurant so he threw together what ingredients he had to create what we know as the Caesar salad.

Last night I f-cked something up.  What was supposed to be a simple caramel ice cream turned out to be a recipe that is sure to take its place among these classics.  Or not, I don't care.  It's badass and I'm going to make it for everyone I know.

As with many events throughout history, there was a woman behind this man's folly.  In this case the woman's name is Jeni.  Jeni and I have a lot in common:

  • Jeni loves ice cream - I love ice cream
  • Jeni is a creative ice cream entrepreneur with a chain of stores in Ohio and Tennessee (Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams) that serve up some of the most inventive ice cream flavors around - I, well, I love ice cream.
Courtesy of Jeni's blog
So when I found out Jeni was releasing a cookbook with some of best flavors from her repertoire I immediately put it on my Christmas list.  When I got the book Christmas morning I realized I'd put the girliest, frilliest cookbook I've ever seen on my Christmas list.  But it didn't matter.  Jeni knows ice cream inside out.  Jeni is hardcore.  Jeni is badass.  Jeni would've scored on Alabama.

Fast forward to yesterday.  Jeni's base recipe deviates from most in that the eggs used to thicken a custard to create a base are replaced by a corn starch slurry and a bit of cream cheese.  After one run of a recipe from Jeni's book (The Best Dark Chocolate Ice Cream in the World which, even though I haven't tried every dark chocolate ice cream out there, I'd have to say that this one would probably be up there) I, in typical male fashion, declared myself an expert on Jeni's method for rich, creamy ice cream.

The ingredients ready for action
So with base recipe in hand, or mind, I started on creating my own Jeni's-style ice cream.  No question that ice cream was going to involve peanut butter or some type of caramel.  With no peanut butter at home, the recipe defaulted to caramel.  Remembering I'd recently found some cajeta (a Mexican dulce de leche made with goat milk with a slightly sour and deeper taste than dulce de leche from cows milk) I began to deviate from my original plan.  I used Jeni's salted caramel ice cream recipe as a base and off I went.

Into a pot went about 1/2 a bottle of cajeta over medium heat to get it a little bubbly and more viscous.  Warmed cream and corn syrup were slowly whisked in followed by milk.  The mixture was then brought to a dangerous boil (WATCH THIS PART CAREFULLY KIDS!) as the liquid bubbled close to, but never over, the rim of the pot.  A corn starch slurry is added and the mixture is heated till thickened then into a bowl where softened cream cheese is waiting to get incorporated.

Tasting throughout the process the mixture tasted faintly sweet, never overpowering so no modifications were needed (so I thought).  Into a plastic bag and a dip in an ice bath for 1/2 hour before going into the badass turquoise ice cream machine (yeah it's badass - anyone with a plain old white Cuisinart is a wussy).  A couple of tastes of the mix churning in the ice cream machine made me nervous.  As the mixture chilled it got sweeter and sweeter.  I thought the opposite would have been true and that the mixture would have lost sweetness, saltiness, etc. as it froze.   In the word of GOP powerhouse Rick Perry, "Ooops".

Then inspiration hit from somewhere across the universe, or at least across town.  One of Miami's most talented, humble and unsung chefs makes a small ice cream dessert with a secret ingredient that he loves to keep from diners until they've exhausted all guesses.  The secret ingredient is soy sauce.  And because this chef loves to surprise diners with this innovative dessert, I won't out him and spoil the surprise for diners lucky enough to make it to his upcoming restaurant.

A few splashes of soy sauce into the ice cream machine as the mix froze turned an overly-sweet base into something extraordinary.  It went from simply sweet to sweet, salty and (please insert the adjective of the word "umami" since I have no idea what it is).  A goof on par with that of the Tatin sisters and Caesar Cardini has resulted in one of my favorite ice cream flavors.

So thanks Jeni for your ice cream savvy.  And thanks terrific unnamed Miami chef for your inspiration.  And thanks to all who'll try this at home and be floored.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SPOTTED: MIA Resto Makes Saveur 100

My favorite Saveur issue of the year is the Saveur 100 which drops each year the end of December.  Since it's the January/February issue, the list of 100 random food-related products, people, places, etc. get named for the current year.  It's rather odd to know in January what the Saveur 100 for 2012 are, but the list is so esoteric that it doesn't really matter.
Courtesy of La Carreta

This year MIA, and by this I mean Miami International Airport, is home to the restaurant at the #2 spot (spots being meaningless as the list is non-ranked) with a nod to the La Carreta just outside the security gate to Terminal D.  

Why La Carreta?  To many its become a place to avoid with cramped spaces, long lines and the strong aroma of garlic and mojo wafting through the dining room.  Also those wanting a quick cortadito before dealing with the security lines can make a b-line for the smaller, more convenient Cafe Versailles mini-counters sprinkled around the airport.

But to out of towners La Carreta must be something of a slap in the face saying HEY YOU'RE NOW IN (OR LEAVING) MIAMI.  And much like descriptions of Miami in travel magazines, Saveur romanticizes the food at La Carreta describing dishes as "juicy", "rich", "gooey", "porky". To each his own as the saying goes and to Saveur, well thanks for highlighting a Miami-style greasy spoon to the world.  Now you just gotta tell your readers how and where in Terminal D to get some good antacids.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SPOTTED: The Baking Girls, Coming Soon

After getting cut-off by an overly aggressive Prius and having to drive across the intersection at Biscayne and NE 69th, my anger was slightly tempered at the spotting of this poster on a window in the building mostly occupied by UVA 69.  It seems someone took every guys fantasy of combining girls and baked goods into one place aptly named The Baking Girls.  No opening date was spotted and the website is currently down so we'll see how this plays out.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

SPOTTED: Serendipity3 open on South Beach

Adding credence to the argument that Miami is the #1 most popular borough to open branches of established Manhattan restos, heeeere's Serendipity3 now open on Lincoln Road.  Overheard from two tables as I walked over to take a look at the menu:

Transplant #1: "Is this as good as the one in New Yawk?"
Transplant #2: "Well, let me tell you something..."

That was all I could stomach eavesdropping.  If anyone has a craving for $10 frooozzzeeennnn hot chocolates, your call has been answered.