Fish Vera Cruz Style and Other…..

Hubby had a Camera Club gathering in the Everglades Sunday afternoon. While he expected to be back around 7:30, our regular dinner time, they do sometimes get caught up in post-gathering discussions. We’d already planned to do swordfish, but rather than grill as usual which meant waiting for him to get home to start, I mentioned we hadn’t done Vera Cruz style for a while and we did have a can of tomatoes with green chilies in the pantry. We agreed that was the way to go.

He had a good time with the Camera Club and called me with his estimated arrival which did happen to be close to 7:30. In putting the finishing touches on dinner – used some leftovers for sides and made the usual salad, I commented on the first time I had snapper Vera Cruz – snapper being the most common fish used in the dish. In a moment of digression, being raised in a small town in Northwest Louisiana in the 1950s-1970s, Mexican food was Tex-Mex and seafood was not in the mix so to speak. Our part of Louisiana is 230 or so miles north of the Gulf and local restaurants carried only freshwater fish and frozen, breaded shrimp. Someone would occasionally bring in a load of fresh shrimp, but it wasn’t common then. Anyway, when I was in California for a few months while on a special assignment in the Army, it didn’t occur to me there was a difference in Mexican food. Was I in for a surprise. A pleasant one of course and snapper Vera Cruz was one of those first dishes I tried. Shredded beef instead of ground was also different as was a heavier use of cumin and a couple of other spices. Being here in Homestead with lots of Mexican restaurants, I was happy to see they have a variety of regional choices depending on what mood we’re in.

Birthdays and Hurricanes…..

We generally don’t make a big deal out of birthdays anymore although they can be an excuse for something like Hubby wants a new piece of dive or camera equipment and it gets claimed as a birthday present. The big Australia trip coincided with our 60th birthdays and 25th anniversary all rolled in together. (Okay, we played a bit with the timing, but they did all occur in a three-month span.) My standard birthday celebration is to dive in the morning, then go next door to Shipwrecks (wonderfully funky place) for lunch and later have a nice dinner at home. As sometimes happens, diving wasn’t feasible yesterday, so we’ll go early next week. That led to having a nice dinner out and in this case we went to Snook’s in Key Largo. They have one of the best sunset views, the food is good and it’s priced no higher than similar places.( If I’d felt like us driving another 30 minutes south we’d have gone to Chef Micheal) Anyway, it was a delicious hogfish meal with a lobster tail added in (we shared that). We also shared a chocolate peanut butter pie.

A fair amount of the day had been spent checking Facebook and a text from one cousin about the status of family and friends in Louisiana as Hurricane Laura slammed in at a Cat 4. It did drop quickly to a 3, but still lots of damage. It was a Cat 2 as it moved north. So far, other than losing power and a lot of lost sleep, everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. Actual damage assessment can start today. We’ll wait for the reports and to see who need what help in recovery. My sister in Houston said it was far enough east not to affect them.

Small, But Tasty Farmer’s Market…..

Being in an agricultural area includes having access to farmer’s markets. As I have mentioned in other posts, we have two growing seasons here; “regular produce” like corn, green beans, strawberries, tomatoes, etc., and exotics of avocados, mangos, starfruit, and more. Some of the farmers markets close during the summer, but some do stay open combining local produce and products with those trucked in from no farther away than the Carolinas. There is also local brown eggs, honey and bee pollen if you’re into that. Between my friend and I we picked up green beans, tomatoes, romaine, eggs, and honey. They’re competitive price-wise as we paid $21 for one 16 oz honey, 2 pounds to tomatoes, a pound of green beans, a dozen eggs, and a head of lettuce. It is a curbside business for the time being. You pull up, check the posted list, give the lady your order and she selects your items and brings them to the vehicle. The address is12690 SW 280th Street, Homestead, FL 33032; Tel: 303.257.2005 (I paid cash and did forget to ask if they took credit cards.) They are open 7 days a week, 10:00-6:00 p.m.

You can see the whole product list and order on-line through the service at They also have deliveries a couple of day a week. For those who may not have read the previous post, Redland Community Market is part of a wonderful organization, Redland Ahead. “Redland Ahead, Inc. is a 501-C3 non-profit organization formed to support agribusiness and provide services and opportunities to veterans and under served in South Florida. The non-profit organization also currently manages other operations and small businesses focused on supporting and growing agribusiness with a strategy to stay small and expand once the generation of operating capital proves effective. Specifically, Redland Ahead, Inc. provides:

  • Support for the training of under served populations and Veterans to become farmers & explore careers in Agriculture business in programs offered by FIU and UF (TREC).
  • Support to the FIU’s AgroEcology program in South Florida in conjunction with the expansion of FIU’s Hispanic Land Grant University status.
  • Support for training to improve the profitability from existing or future crops through university and private development of incubators, commercial kitchens, and other ventures in the Redland and South Florida communities.”

Good people, good food, good cause.

Balsamic Onion Topping….

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned before that for odd reasons, here were are in South Florida 18-20 miles from the Keys (depending on which measure you use) and we haven’t had a dedicated seafood restaurant for several years. We do have a Red Lobster and while I appreciate it for what it is, that’s not the same thing. Most of the restaurants do have seafood on the menu, particularly yellowtail snapper and mahi, which are the most common catch. Anyway, back when we did have the one restaurant, they served a dish of tuna balsamic. It was grilled tuna (lightly seasoned) topped with a mound of onions sauteed in balsamic vinegar.

The other day Hubby said to remind him next time we had tuna and he would try to duplicate the dish. We did so last night and it was indeed as we remembered. Now, obviously one must enjoy onions for this to be a suitable dish. It is, however, incredibly simple and would work nicely with chicken or pork. Here you could

One medium sweet onion – your preference. Thinly slice the onion, saute on medium in olive oil until caramelized; approximately five minutes. Add 4-5 tablespoons of favorite balsamic vinegar, equal amounts of white wine (can use stock of some type if preferred), and several grinds of black pepper. There is no need for extra salt unless desired. Cook on low for approximately 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. There should not be much liquid at the end, but depending on how your stove cooks, small amounts of water may need to be added during the cooking time. Don’t add more balsamic or broth because that will alter the flavor balance. It will also keep for several days if there are leftovers.


Some Things Better From A Restaurant….

As I have posted on numerous occasions, cooking is something Hubby and I enjoy. While we have certain specialties and of course I don’t even know how to light the grill, we share in preparation unless one of us has to be otherwise occupied. If he is grilling, I’ll take care of the salads and probably the sides. If I am doing veal paprika for example, he’ll handle salads after having done all the prep chopping for the main dish. One of the “givens”, is he adopted true “chef” techniques for chopping, has the specialty knives, and not only enjoys it, but cringes when he watches me chop in the same old-fashioned way I always have. Despite all of this, there are simply certain dishes we don’t bother with. Ribs fall into that category. Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day are times when burgers, brats, chicken, or ribs are really what one should have. Fried fish can be okay and yes, if one lives in New England, lobster is common.

Although ribs can be cooked in different ways, slow cooked for many hours no matter what seasoning one chooses is the correct method. Period. Ten to twelve hours is the minimum proper time and fourteen is even better. Duplicating that at home comes with far more effort than we wish to expend and we have no shortage of places in town offering excellent ribs. I personally go for the dry rub and Hubby is often torn, but generally goes that way as well.  We don’t have a strong preference as to cut even though baby backs do have a slight edge. Pork, not beef, as much because of his Georgia roots as anything. Granted, other boiled crustaceans,  few things are messier to eat and extra napkins and wipes are required. That, however, is worth the extra effort.

Days of Instant Coffee…..

A post to Twitter brought this old memory to mind. My mother did not drink coffee, so Daddy mostly drank instant. As I think I posted some time back, I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in the Army. I did, however, work behind the fountain at the Rexall Pharmacy with one of the big silver electric coffee urns and had to learn to make coffee in it. I also learned what happens when one doesn’t make it to suit the taste of the regulars and it didn’t take long to correct the “too weak or too strong” errors. Since this was in the years before Mr. Coffee type drip pots became popular, I had the home percolator for those who are of an age to remember such things. But, since I was rarely home enough to drink more than a cup, I still often used instant.

Somewhere in the process, a couple of coffee makers introduced coffee bags – the same thing as a tea bag. For me, they generally produced a more reliably smoother taste than most of the granulated since the amount in the bag was pre-measured. The  solution to single cup dilemma was the Kuerig type machine and who knows, maybe the inventor was faced with the same issue of wanting “brewed” coffee, but only one cup at a time. Not to mention, having all sorts of choices available depending on which cup/pod is selected. The drawback of course is trying to make coffee for a group. I have been told there is at least one manufacturer who has a combination machine; one side is a regular drip maker and the other the single serving type. This is why free markets and capitalism are so great. We will probably check this out the next time our drip maker needs to be replaced.

Growing Hyrdoponics…..

For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, there seems to be a surge of Facebook promotions for growing your own hyrdoponics. We do have at least two local places I know that have these on a commercial scale – well, not like really huge – but enough to provide goods at some of the farmers’ markets. We, in fact, had the indoor Aero Garden for I guess it was two years or a little longer. What it comes down to is we were successful in the growing and the lettuces were delicious. The problem was the volume. With the single machine, the yield was not very large and the seed pods we ordered were expensive enough to where we couldn’t claim we were doing this from a “saving money” perspective. (There was an option to get seeds from a store and create your own pods, but we never did that.) It was interesting and the set-ups I’ve been seeing on Facebook are for outdoor. Unless you have some sort of greenhouse protection though you will have a specified growing season. As I have mentioned in previous posts, ironically the year-round ability to grow here does not include items like lettuces for the summer because it is too hot. Now, it has been a while since we’ve done this so I suppose there could be some hot-weather variant available that I am simply unaware of.

Cost of goods won’t be a factor for some people as much as the pleasure they get in growing their own and the certainty of knowing the source.Once again though, I’m not sure about quantity of yield and how many plants it would take to have enough lettuces. We each have a salad for dinner every night we eat at home except Friday (pizza night). I usually have a salad for lunch if I’m home. I’ll keep an eye on Facebook posts and see if any actual people discuss their experience.


In Defense of Picky Eaters……

For all of you with adventuresome tastes, you do have a wide culinary world to enjoy – or at least explore. As more people stay at home (providing they can also get groceries), many appear to be trying new dishes and recipes. Several of my friends consider me to be a picky eater, although that can be a relative term. I grew up in a “standard” small, Southern town in the time of traditional fare, but indeed did not eat cooked greens nor yellow squash. A wide range of seasonings were not available, although for those who never had vegetables cooked with bacon grease, you are missing a treat. There were no Chinese, Italian, etc; restaurants, and when a pizza place did finally open, we of course didn’t cross the threshold since they also sold beer. (That was one of numerous Baptist prohibitions I violated in my college years).

Anyway, my culinary experience did greatly expand as I left home for both foreign countries and other states. I do admit, I hadn’t the faintest notion of what a frappe was the first time I visited Maine and unless one is vegetarian, how can one not appreciate a Philly cheese steak? My point is, I do have a long list of “common” items I don’t eat, possible led off by eggs, bananas, and mushrooms. I am occasionally trapped into eating quiche due to social politeness, and yes, I apparently ate both eggs and bananas as a small child until somewhere along the way, I was able to express my dislike. (Mushrooms were not part of our diet so I was spared that.) Hubby, on the other hand, loves them and for a while was convinced if I just tried a different type/way of preparation, I would change my mind. He has given up and simply enjoys eating my share. I’m okay with the flavor; not the texture, so we cook with them all the time and I pass mine to him.

My point is, as long as we picky eaters achieve balanced nutrition, (which most of us do) don’t worry about us.

Supporting Local Restaurants…..

I don’t intend to get into politics. We are as is being said, in “uncharted waters” (or whatever term you prefer), yet some of the restrictions set out are simply not sustainable. As more hard data becomes available rather than mostly modeling, decisions as to focused solutions will hopefully come about in the next week or two.

In the meantime, small businesses considered non-essential will see some financial assistance with passage of the economic bill yesterday. Help will not be immediate of course, which goes back to the point of the mantra of having three-to-six months of savings set aside to carry one through emergencies. Many, of course, do not have that various reasons.

In the case of a barber shop being closed, there’s nothing we can do to help them. With our local restaurants, we can, and are doing carry-out to reflect at least the same rate as we usually do, and a little more. Less than two weeks ago, when I had one of those lunch out five days in a row in addition to the standing Wed and Fri Happy Hours, Hubby joked about me having lunch out more than anyone he knew. In general though, I do have lunch out at least once and often twice a week, so there is no reason not to do that now. Fridays nights have always been pizza night for us and Hubby’s favorite is Papa Johns. Under the circumstances, he said we would use one of the family-owned places instead until they are all able to re-open for regular business. I was especially glad to see the governor here is allowing those restaurants with their liquor license to sell beer and wine to go. (The usual laws pertaining to it being bagged and no open containers in the vehicle still apply). After all, when we dine out, we always order a bottle of wine or beer. I am also glad we’re in a position to be able to do this for at least a while.


FIGAT, Here’s What It Is….

There is a charming place, Cauley Square, about 25 minutes north that I have written about in previous posts. It’s a ten-acre, beautifully landscaped historic area filled with small shops and two main restaurants. The one up front is quite well-known and enjoyable. The second, the Village Chalet, is tucked back into tropical foliage and you do have to walk to get to it. Like the other buildings, it is in an old house brought in. It has a wrap-around porch to allow for outside dining and is cozy inside. It has passed through multiple hands over the years and the latest version is FIGAT Chefs Kitchen.

FIGAT is Federation of International Gastronomy, Art and Tourism. It’s an international organization that celebrates the love of food. Chefs are rotated every so often to different places and the reason they are in Cauley Square is because of the proximity to Redland which has unique agriculture. While they are not precisely Farm To Table, they focus on fresh. At the moment, their menu is heavily influenced with Spanish and Caribbean. They are not inexpensive, but portions are generous and worth what you spend. There will also be culinary workshops and events in the near future. Service is impeccable. This is not a place to dash into for a meal. It is intended to be leisurely and the sort of place where one has wine with lunch. Interestingly, their array of desserts (at least for lunch) are shooter size with choices of mousse, key lime pie, multiple flavors of cheesecake, and yes, the coffee is delicious. I will be sitting down with the lady in charge soon to write an article for the paper. They are involved in programs with various levels of students as well as entities associated with tourism. Unless we specifically wish to travel into the Keys to dine on the water, this will be our special occasion place if we want to go beyond our city limits.