Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shake the Tree and All the Chutney You Ever Wanted Falls Right in Your Lap

If you live or ever have lived in South Florida, you know that tropically inspired food and the in-season fruits that make it legendary are like living a Jimmy Buffet song—only in hi def!   Right now, mangoes and papayas are dangling—and quite tantalizingly—from the branches; iguanas are watching closely, hoping for some of that fruit to fall.
A summertime walk outside in Ft. Lauderdale may be a steam bath, but it’s also an invitation to shake the tree so that all the fruit you ever wanted falls right in your lap—and that’s just what this girl did… except I went to Publix. I picked up enough red flesh papaya to bow the sides of my hand basket. It was just a quick trip for the supplies necessary to make Ft. Lauderdale Fresh Mango & Papaya Chutney: green-skinned papayas and fat, red mangoes weighing about 4 pounds each, chili peppers, a little local honey, etc…..

When I got the papaya home and chopped it open, the seeds reminded me of caviar; these are great, by the way for grinding and using in place of pepper. Papaya seeds have a wonderful sharp and spicy flavor. For the purposes of this recipe, however, I scraped them out with a spoon and put the papaya chunks into a large stockpot. Then the mangoes—easy to slit just once, then peel with your fingers—went in, a cup of brown sugar, half of a diced red onion, with a minced red and green pepper, honey, curry, red wine vinegar and a splash of fresh squeezed FLORIDA orange juice. I let it boil and then took it down to a simmer for over an hour, sorry about only one thing once I tasted it.
It was very, very good and there was a lot of it, but……

This whole chutney experience had been inspired by a trip to Sur La Table, and I hadn’t come home with any of those cute, vintage looking mason jars to put the chutney in. Sur la Table sells a lot of the Kitchen Must Haves that I talk about in the new book, and thus the field trip since I hadn’t been in a while. Pictured here is a rack of chutneys, salsas, spreads, balsamics, powders, you name it. Being in this place is like opening a wardrobe door into a kind of culinary Narnia, and finding yourself in Ina Garten’s pantry.

Scanning the inventory for potential Christmas gifts (even if it is a bit early), I couldn’t help but want to solve this conundrum for people: what is the difference between chutney and salsa? Because I have to admit that the thick “chutney” I just made was used in part, to mix with a pouch of tuna and scoop up with tortilla chips. It was fabulous, but then again, it was salsa…right?
Well, the truth is that while some salsas can actually be cooked, it’s rare to make a salsa on the stove. The chutney/salsa difference lies in the sugar content, too. In order to make chutneys as sweet and sticky as they are, the sugar has to be dissolved via extreme heat into other ingredients, i.e. big ripe pieces of yummy fruit I used today, vinegar and Indian spices. The result is a lot like marmalade: sweet, sticky and thick—and the recipe featured here makes about a quart, enough to pack into clean, sealable jars.

I left Sur La Table without, GASP, buying anything…and maybe those nice looking Mason jars were better left behind this time, since I have big plans for today’s chutney. I am trying to decide if I want to use it on swordfish steaks, take it to picnic with more chips than spoons, or load it into a chicken wrap. Hmm?? Suggestions anyone?

Ft. Lauderdale Fresh Mango & Papaya Chutney

Prep time: about 2 hours
Makes 1 quart of chutney

2 pounds ripe mangoes, peeled, stone removed and diced
2 pounds ripe papaya, peeled with seeds removed and cut into chunks
½ red onion, chopped
2 chilies, one red, and one green, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 cup fresh Florida orange juice
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey, preferably local honey
1/2 cup red wine vinegar  
1 tablespoon kosher salt
11/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Put all of the ingredients, except for the mustard and lemon juice, in a large pot and bring to a boil, about five minutes. 

Once contents in pot are boiling, turn heat to medium for one hour, then simmer for an additional thirty minutes.

Keep on the stovetop for up to 2 hours total, or until the consistency of the chutney resembles marmalade; stir in the Dijon mustard and lemon juice last; mix thoroughly, turn off stove and let cool. Transfer to clean, warm jars and seal or serve immediately. 


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Gazpacho Pool Party!

Finding yourself poolside over the summer means lots and lots of gnoshing: chips, hot dogs, bugers, popsicles on a stick—but there’s a sophisticated summer snack that perhaps you haven’t pulled out of your picnic basket. It brings down your core temperature even better than ice cream, and keeps you light as a feather while you’re swimming. It’s called Grab and Go Watermelon Gazpacho, and if you haven’t heard of it (gazpacho), don’t feel bad.  Perhaps you studied French in highschool, or had a siesta when your teachers talked about the best cold soup and tapa in the Andalucia region of Spain.
For the unititiated, gazpacho is simply a soup—best served not just cold, but nicely chilled—gazpacho can be made from just about any fresh produce you have on hand: tomatoes of any color (a lot of people love Zebra or heirloom tomatoes), cucumbers of any type (I prefer an English cucumber in this soup), onion, cilantro and, in the case of the batch that was enjoyed today—2 ½ pounds of pureed watermelon!
When I got an email from someone attending a pool party, who wanted to bring something nice to the hostess, I have to admit that the first thing that came to this EXTREME PARTY planner’s mind was not gazpacho; it was a big, fat, simple—but seedless—watermelon. I pictured a tray of artfully cut medallions of watermelon topped with basil sprigs and feta cheese. This, in and of itself, is a great appetizer, and certainly, the 7 pound watermelon used in my poolside gazpacho recipe left enough juicy pink watermelon behind to make that too—but I was so satisfied with my own batch of soup, that I packed up the extra watermelon in an airtight container to use for MORE gazpacho when I get a chance.
I’m sure that when someone sees “Watermelon Gazpacho” they can’t believe it could be good. The optimists say, “Oh, a little weird, but it does sound like something you’d get on a 4-star cruise ship!” while fans of traditional chilled and savory soups can’t picture something so sweet and fruity as watermelon messing things up. I was among the skeptics, but a few tatsings as I went along preparing the gazpacho proved that the watermelon was going to be really mild—and perfectly counter balanced by the heat of a serrano pepper, tomatoes and cilantro. Maybe the reason, my watermelong gazpacho turned out so good is the “chill first, blend last” approach I used.
I usually just put ingredients for gazpacho straight into the food processor, but this time I mashed the watermelon with a simple potato masher in a pretty Le Creuset crockpot that was big enough to handle the load. Then I peeled, chopped and blended everything else, hand mashing it and letting all those flavors marry in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I poured the unblended gazpacho into a big airtight carafe with a snap-on lid, and froze it hours before the party. Once the party started, we poured the now semi-frozen gazpacho into the blender and it pureed to chilled perfection in the red party cups that usually contain beer.

“Fantastic!” a lot of the guests said. “Really, really, really, really good. And so fresh!” And I have to admit it was incredible. I dice up lots of veggies to pour over the top of my gazpacho and sprinkle feta cheese over all—and that makes me one happy camper on the patio chair with my plastic spoon. For those guests who don’t like it so chunky, there’s the option of drinking it right there in the pool, while you float around with half your cooled down body draped over a pool ring. Ahhhh…happiness!
Try it someday soon—watermelon gazpacho is amazing at the beach too!

Grab and Go Watermelon Gazpacho

Hands on Prep Time: 20 minutes
Serves 10 to 12

3 roma tomatoes, skin on and diced
1/2 Serrano pepper, seeded, veins removed and roughly chopped
4 cups cubed fresh watermelon
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 tablespoons minced red onion
1 English cucumber, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese for garnish (optional)

In a large pot—preferably one you can later fit with a lid, combine all of the ingredients and mash down with a potato masher or back of a large spoon, until the watermelon is the consistency of a slushy; by mixing and mashing the ingredients, the various flavors are interspersed and have a chance to marry.

Fit the lid over the pot and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. (Note: Once the gazpacho has marinated for several hours and is extremely cold, it’s ready for the blender.)

Remove the pot from the refrigerator and pour the contents into a container that fits into the freezer;make sure gazpacho is frozen when you transport it to the party. Allow it to thaw for 15 to 30 minutes, and then place the gazpacho into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour into bowls or cups and sprinkle with feta cheese and diced veggies if you prefer. You can also enjoy the gazpacho smooth and sip it straight from the cup. 
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