If today I were writing a recipe reflecting where I am at the moment, this wouldn’t be it. And despite the relative exoticism of the recipe, and therefore the geographic desirability of its origins, I am happy where I am. It is 24-hour warm, which is just about all I need in a place to be content. That and the more obvious things like good food (check), security (check), and enough money to get by (I hope). Regular readers will perhaps know where I might be, but for others, here’s a clue: Mickey Mouse. And another: Gulf of Mexico.
So, unless you think California, Shanghai, Tokyo or Paris are on the Gulf of Mexico, you will have guessed Florida. I am home visiting family, getting a needed hit of sun, not going to theme parks, reading loads, and eating. And eating some more.
At some point I will be whizzing up this spice paste to pop into my Dad’s freezer for him to use after I leave. And if we have time I will knock up the recipe that I will post next week, featuring as it does homemade paneer – ridiculously easy and fun to make. But mostly I am being taken to the many new eateries that are springing up, like enthusiastic Labradors – welcoming and eager to please.
The past few days have been spent on Anna Maria Island, a dot of a place in a string of bridge-connected barrier islands that parallel the southwest mainland cities of Sarasota and Bradenton. It is idyllic with its nearly empty bleached-white beaches, low-rise homes and condos, and lack of traffic. A resort town hiding in plain sight. This is where I was married, but even without this sentimental connection, it would be one of my favourite places on Earth. But it has come to mean family, and holds many happy memories.
Although we ate simply and by our own hand, we did discover upon leaving the island two stylish and delicious new places to eat – Poppo’s Taqueria and Anna Maria Island Donuts. Both are very small enterprises, the latter being just a young bubbly couple making all donuts up to order. I am not normally a sweet person but after our very early lunch next door of – in my case – spiced tempeh with seasoned pinto beans, brown rice, pickled red onions, guacamole, freshly made green chilli sauce, and herbs over honey-lime red cabbage – we each indulged in a bespoke freshly made donut. These were as far away from Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts as is possible to get. The donuts are freshly made with not a trace of the fat in which it is cooked; slightly crisp with a soft but not airy or doughy interior. Not sweet either, although there is of course a little sugar in the dough. It is a donut after all! My sister, who has a knowledgeable and discerning sweet tooth, said hers was the best donut she had ever had. She said they are the kind of treat worth the trip alone. I don’t want to say she has a lot of experience in donut tasting, but I trust her opinion, especially because it mirrored mine. Of the seven icing/coating options I chose caramel, and topped it with chopped peanuts and sea salt. Simple and simply delicious. We all had something different, and we did a thing my fellow non-sharers and germphobes usually abhor: we passed them around for tasting and appraisal. All anyone walking past would have heard was a symphony of satisfied mmm’s and a bit of finger licking.
Both shops are in a tiny and sympathetically designed development on Pine Avenue, light years removed from the soul-less, bland ‘strip malls’ that blight many of Florida’s highways and roads. You could just as easily cycle or walk here as drive up in a car (open-topped or full-spec SUV please), which is unusual in Florida. Impressions are that these businesses are more than thriving, which hopefully means that this area at least is heralding a new wave of confidence in the economy, and life in general. Of course I didn’t think that while I was sitting there, munching down on my spicy tempeh. I was just about happy enough watching the coolest people I have ever seen in real life stroll up and place their orders to the Chris Hemsworth lookalike. But I did just wonder: when can I have a donut?
This Week 2011: Lemon Geranium Cake
This Week 2012: Five Seed No-Knead Bread
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Entertainment by Phoenix – brilliant!
Resist the tempting ready-made spice pastes, with their preserving slicks of oil and their artery-hardening sodium levels, and make this easy, freezeable mix instead. Although rogan josh is usually a rather hot and pungent beast, please tame as required by nixing or reducing the fiery dried chillies. The resulting paste should have a good, concentrated whack of flavour and heat: it will be sweetened and tamed when other fresh ingredients are later added.
This paste is enough to serve four to six in a vegetable or vegetable and protein-based curry. To use once made, add a little oil in a medium-hot pan, karai or wok, and stir-fry a chopped onion and 400-500 grams of meat, chicken, prawns, tempeh or tofu for five minutes, followed by the paste. Add in approximately 750 grams of evenly sliced vegetables, stirring to coat. Stir-fry for a few minutes before adding 500 ml of water or coconut milk, or a combination of the two. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and bubble away until the vegetables are cooked to your taste. I like to add lemon or lime juice at the end of the cooking time, as well as chopped fresh coriander leaves. You may wish to add some salt too. Serve with steamed rice or chapati.
My next post will tell you how I use this paste to make a delicious and beautiful beetroot, tomato and homemade paneer curry.
Ingredients and Directions: Puree together 3 fat peeled garlic cloves with a thumb-sized (30g) piece of peeled gingerroot, juice of half a lemon, 1 red chilli (deseeded or not, as you wish) and 1 tsp of salt.
Roast in a hot dry pan (I use a cast iron skillet): a 5 cm piece of cinnamon stick, 4 green cardamom pods, 5 whole cloves, 1 tsp peppercorns, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 3 birds’ eye chillies (optional – very hot). Whiz these up to a powder in a spice or coffee grinder, then mix with the pureed garlic, ginger and chilli, 2 tsp ground turmeric*, 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp hot paprika or chilli powder (optional), ¾ tsp fenugreek powder (or roast 1 tsp of the seeds, above) and 3 heaped tbsp of concentrated tomato paste.
Use immediately or pop into a clean jar, label and store in your freezer. To use from frozen, let the paste defrost enough to loosen from the jar; use as for freshly made.