Lost A Couple of Days…..

It’s been another of those weeks where my time at the computer was “parsed” between being at meetings/events and handling other obligations.

We did spend Sunday though at the annual Rum Renaissance Festival put on by the Burrs, who moved the festival this year up to Fort Lauderdale to the Broward Convention Center. It’s a nice location being only a couple of miles from the airport and having three hotels within a 10-minute walk. The Hilton is at the marina which gives an extra treat if you enjoy seeing boats coming and going.

Since it was the first year in the new location, there will no doubt be some changes based on experience and feedback. There are only one or two suggestions we will make. Anyway, the festival had 70 vendors, some interesting seminars, music to relax to, and plenty of fun people to talk to. Hubby is more the run drinker than I am, but the way we actually became involved is because when I spun the character of Chris Green off to create the series featuring her – Deadly Doubloons, False Front, and Georgina’s Grief – I decided to make her a lover of sipping rums. In searching around to include different rums in the stories, I found http://www.robsrum.com and didn’t realize at the time a friendship would develop from that initial inquiry. It can indeed be a small world.


Not Sure What To Call The Dish….

Every now and then, we deviate from certain recipes purely because of particular ingredients we have on hand. The other night we had planned to do Snapper Vera Cruz. When we make that, there is usually sauce left over and we’ve had leftover sauce from other dishes lately. We also happened to have extra sun dried tomatoes in olive oil because there was a buy-one-get-one at the store. So, instead of using a can of tomatoes, if I used a smaller amount of sun dried ones, that would give us a nice sauce without leftovers. On the other hand, sun dried tomatoes are normally with Italian dishes (at least for us) and not Southwestern cuisine. Anyway, we proceeded with flavoring the snapper fillets with a seafood blend a friend created and gave us for Christmas. Seasoning for the diced onions, sun dried tomatoes, and can of green chilies was a Chipotle sea-salt, black pepper, and cumin. It was 3-4 minutes sauteing the veggies in the skillet, then pushing the veggies to the sides of the skillet to cook the fillets around 4 minutes, turn and cover the top of the fillets with the vegetables for another 4 minutes. It was a simple, one-pan dish and didn’t use a lid.

The recipe worked, although we agreed a little more cumin would have been better and we might add garlic next time. Again, we tend to not use garlic in Southwestern dishes, but since we obviously had already “blended cuisines”, there was no reason not to consider it for the next time. We couldn’t come to agreement about what to call it and are open to suggestions. Oh, and there were no leftovers.

Key West Spots….

Hubby and I made our way to Key West yesterday to spend the night for the first time. Friends we’ve not seen in many years had a port call for a few hours and we linked up at First Flight, a restaurant and brewery previously known as Kelly’s Caribbean Restaurant and Brewery. With parking the issue it is, I booked us into a small inn about a 25-minute walk from the center of town. The mostly open air place was good and we all had a great time getting caught up. Hubby and I paced ourselves a bit since we intended to remain in the center and have dinner at another place. We did wander to Mallory Square after, but with sunset scheduled for almost 8:00 p.m., we didn’t want to bother with it. We did, however, go into Sloppy Joe’s for a drink and some excellent music.

Before leaving the inn, Hubby suggested I take the umbrella to ward off rain. Rain that wasn’t actually predicted except maybe a brief shower. That turned out to not be the case. It did start as a light shower and for a little while seemed as if it would move off. We were on our way to the A&B Lobster House and close to a CVS. Since the small umbrella we had wasn’t really doing the job, Hubby took shelter under an awning with some other people and I popped in to buy another umbrella. The deal with any umbrella, however, is it doesn’t do much to shelter your legs or your shoes, especially not when there are apparent drainage problems with the streets. On the other hand, the restaurant we were going to was closed-in rather than open air like many of them. A higher end place for sure than First Flight, but an excellent meal and the rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time we left. It did stop within a short time as we walked back.

That Apple Cake…..

I don’t do much baking and certainly far less than when we had son and teenage friends around the house. I’ve mentioned in posts before how I do not have the knack for dealing with pastry and I am definitely not creative when it comes to making a cake, cupcakes, or cookies look pretty. Today, however, happens to be one where I needed to prepare a specific cake (well, I mean specific because I chose it) for a social event. I had decided on an apple cake that I haven’t made in ages. It goes all the way back to my very early years in the Army and I can’t even recall now which wife did this one and then shared the recipe. Notwithstanding the fact it has apples, it is not what one could call nutritious. Delicious yes, and it has the added benefit of being one of the recipes you are supposed to make a day ahead. The batter is quite thick by the time you get everything in (done by hand) and when done, the cake is very dense. But if you want something in the “comfort food” category, here it is.

2.5 cups flour; 2 c sugar, 1c salad oil, 2 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 cups chopped apples, 1 bag butterscotch chips (caramel or white chocolate would work, too).

Sift flour and cinnamon together. Put oil, eggs, and sugar in bowl and stir with fork. Add flour mixture in small batches and blend in. Stir in apples. Place into 9X13 baking pan and top with butterscotch chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes (I find 57 min to be right for my oven).

The melted chips make it a little harder to cut, but you have to wait around an hour before you can do so. You can leave it in the pan and cover with foil or if you want to take the squares (rectangles) out and place into some other dish/container, use a spatula and be gentle. It can fall apart since it does take a few hours to set up. It does not require refrigeration although you can if you like. I serve it at room temperature and you can top with whipped cream and some kind of berry if you’d like.

“Little Chickens”…..

The game hens have finished thawing for tonight’s dinner. This is one of those meals that brings back fond memories. The title of the post by the way comes from a scene in a TV sitcom where the rather demanding woman of the house told the housekeeper to pick up game hens and said, “And don’t buy little chickens and tell me it’s the same thing.”

Anyway, we now grill game hens as a weekend meal, each have half, then do a meal of leftovers later in the week. When Hubby and I were going together, he invited me to his place for dinner. We hadn’t really had many discussions about his culinary ability although we did both enjoy food. I more or less assumed it would be steaks because that’s kind of a guy thing. I walked into his condo to see the table set, a lemon slice in the water glasses, salads ready, the wine opened, and a lovely aroma from the kitchen. He had just taken the roasted game hens stuffed with brown and wild rice from the oven. I expressed my pleasure and he explained someone had once given him the advice that as a bachelor, he needed to find and perfect just a few dishes – one for special dinners, one to take for pot-lucks, and one to have as central to parties. That was to be in addition to the common guy expertise with grilling.

The game hens were obviously the special dinner, he had a wonderful broccoli rice casserole for potlucks, his chili-cheese dip for parties is always popular and he did a killer chili. As you know if you follow this blog, cooking together is something we share and the number of his specialty dishes has definitely expanded. We’ve had a few we’ve experimented with that while they were good, we determined they just weren’t worth all the trouble. It’s been a lot of fun along the way, not to mention delicious.

A Tough Business…..

There are few small businesses that are easy and those with a lot of competition add an extra dimension of difficulty. Restaurants are among the most difficult for several reasons. The facility and health requirements are constant demands, and by that I mean a place can be all set to go for the day and the/a stove goes out. That can create all sorts of turmoil.  Health inspectors can show up unexpectedly and maybe the temperature for the hot water in the sinks isn’t correct. It may seem like a small thing, but can cause problems.

The simple fact is restaurants have to price within a narrow band of similar restaurants and managing inventory is difficult, especially if you want to promote “fresh”. That aspect means potential for spoilage which equals higher operational costs. Labor is of course a huge headache because again that is one of the major costs and turnover is common. Hiring good staff can pose problems, and keeping them even more so. Anyone who has ever spent time as a waitress/waiter knows this and anyone who experiences poor service does, too.

We have a local restaurant/lounge which is attempting to “transform” and it will be interesting to see what happens. The new manager is quite pleasant and means well, but there are a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the aspects is potentially mutually exclusive target markets. There may not be as much disparity as initially appears, so I will hold off judgment until I see how things progress. The menu at the moment is quite limited which is generally a good idea going back to inventory and quality management. Of the four items our group sampled, three were good and one was questionable. Again, the actual “transformation” will include new menu items, but having something that works well in the meantime is a basic step. I always hope the best when someone has a vision, is willing to take a risk, and works hard. We shall see.

A Meandering Day of Fun…..

Burr’s Berry Stand as one of the stops of the Redland Rallye. (Photo from Rob)

Okay, back to pleasant topics. Saturday will be the annual Redland Riot Rallye. Rob and Robin Burr, along with son Rob, Jr. and I’m not sure who else, will greet teams at Historic Cauley Square on Dixie Highway, (Hwy 1). Redland is the large agriculture area that was carved out in the latter part of the 1800s by pioneering families who figured out how to work the difficult, but excellent soil. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the intense summer climate here means there are two distinct growing seasons. “Winter crops” are fabulous strawberries, tomatoes, corn, etc., that give way to exotic tropical fruits of mangoes, avocados, papaya, etc. A number of families and farms shifted from edibles to ornamental plants and there are side-by-side nurseries with hundreds of varieties of palms, beautiful flowering shrubs, orchids in all shapes and sizes. Not surprisingly, fruit stands/markets grew  up over the years, most of which are seasonal. The density of foliage in Redland causes much of this to be obscured from public view and not until you turn into a place do you see the growth. Thus, there is almost a “hidden Redland”.

Rob, who is of the seventh Deep South Dade Burr generations put together the Redland Riot Rallye in 1992 as a way to introduce people to these places. It is set up to be a day of leisure, of exploration followed by a fun party at Schnebly Winery and Brewery, a beautifully landscaped operation that has flourished through the vision and hard work of Peter Schnebly and his family.

The process is pretty simple. Each car (or whatever vehicle you choose) is a team. Sign-in is 10-11:00 at Cauley Square where you are provided a map and a card with questions to be answered at the fourteen stops. The Rallye ends at Schnebly where the cards are turned in not later than 5:00 p.m. There is a prize for the winner and plenty of fun to share.

Our schedule has prevented us from participating and once again, Hubby won’t be available, but I am going to make at least part of it this year. Here’s the link to learn more. www.RedlandRiot.com

Tricky Leftovers….

With social gatherings in full swing, my husband has given up trying to get me to properly calculate the amount of food required for guests. I am a little better than I used to be, but it is marginal, shall we say. I totally believe in the “better too much than too little”. That of course pretty much always results in leftovers; some of which can be passed along to guests and others not. I have also done posts in the past about the creative use of leftovers. However, the culinary reality is not all leftovers do work well with reheating and transformation of them can be tricky. One of the most difficult to deal with is a pastry wrapped item or anything with a “crisped” topping. If you reheat in a microwave as most of us do, the topping will be soggy. If you re-heat in the oven, you may be able to preserve the topping by carefully using the broiler, but whatever is underneath might not be warm enough.

In general, I go with a two-step process. I start by taking whatever it is out of the fridge and let  it come to room temperature. Yes, I know the Food Police say don’t do that, but so far, illness has not resulted. If it something like a casserole, I gently remove the topping and set it aside. (By the way, this process is likely to detract from aesthetics.) I have the oven at 350, cover the casserole tightly with foil and try a 20-minute reheat. It might take longer depending on the density. Oh, I also spread it out as thinly as possible in the dish to help with reheating time. Then I remove the foil, replace the topping and either lightly dot with butter or sprinkle in Parmesan cheese if it is compatible with the dish. Four to seven minutes under the broiler will usually work, but you do have to watch it because the timing isn’t exact. Re-crisping is good – burned not so much.

Although this process isn’t good for everything, I have had a lot of success with it.


Friends Gathered Around….

Despite our efforts to gather “loose” friends for Thanksgiving, I just found out we missed one. It was a situation where both individuals had to work, but their schedules were such they couldn’t celebrate together and I didn’t realize that or we would have certainly issued the invitation. We did have a lovely dinner though with a beautiful fried turkey and all the trimmings you could ask for. I really have to get the recipe for those sweet potatoes au gratin. Which brings up an interesting point. Later, when we were down to four, we were talking about the sweet potatoes and it turned out none of us like the sweet potato casserole topped with marsh mellows. Hubby and I prefer strictly savory, and one person prefers pecan and brown sugar topping. Oh, and speaking of toppings, I was successful in doing the low-carb green bean dish only to discover Hubby really wanted the traditional. I have leftovers though and will get some of the famous crunchy onion topping and make him a special dish.

I have two friends who couldn’t attend and I will be delivering leftovers tomorrow to each of them. I will be sure to make turkey soup this coming week. Last year after Christmas, I messed up, didn’t get to the soup in time and therefore wasted a lovely turkey carcass. I haven’t decided yet on the final turkey dish, but there are several we enjoy. Pot pie is always easy of course.

Although rain had been threatened, it held off and we were able to dine outside. With more than six, it’s our best option and we can fit up to ten at that table. It’s a bit tight and does work better with eight. We can set up for more inside, but it requires rearranging furniture and is a bit of a pain.

Remaking the Green Bean Casserole…..

We usually travel to GA for Thanksgiving, but circumstances are such this year we will be staying here. We’re planning to host for a few friends, but it will be evening instead of afternoon since Hubby will be working. He wants to get the turkey in time for 24 hours of soaking in a brine, then we will plan to fry it if he actually makes it home in time. If he’s going to be delayed he’ll call and the bird will go into the oven. Notwithstanding the fact you aren’t supposed to count calories or carbs for Thanksgiving or Christmas, one of our guests is diabetic with increasingly restrictive diet warnings from the doctor. I’m considering how to lighten up the classic green bean casserole. My thoughts at the moment are to caramelize onions, cook the beans in ham flavoring until they are very tender, then combine them in a skillet to blend the flavors for maybe ten minutes. The final step will be to put a fair amount of grated Romano cheese on top and pop it in the oven for like another ten minutes.

Neither Hubby nor I like sweet potatoes sweet, but we do a savory version with cheese and some chipotle pepper in adobe sauce (just a little). Not much I can do about cranberry sauce or rolls and I do have to think of everyone else. With a couple of carb friendly  dishes though it should be workable. I do a diet cranberry cocktail juice and diet ginger ale served in a festive martini glass as well. I don’t see how I can manage any sort of really low carb dessert although I am definitely open to suggestions. There will be a dessert of course and we will keep it to one so there isn’t this tempting array that requires way too much will power to resist.