Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Fresh Market and Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone

Yet another long overdue post. I really did not know what I was getting into with adding video. However, I always knew that once I had kicked off this blog it was definitely a feature that I wanted to incorporate. Sometimes we just know that we want something but don’t realize what goes into it, especially the hard work that goes into it as well as the time. For myself, it’s mostly a timing thing. It will take some time as I juggle, balance and gain better resources. But as the president of an old banking institution that I used to work for years back would say “You gotta use what brung ya to the game”; put simply you have to use what you have. One of the hardest things for me to do is step out of my comfort zone, yet one of the easiest things for me to do is just be myself. The day we went to The Fresh Market at Wiregrass I decided to step out of my comfort zone and film our very first footage for our food and travel “vlog” to supplement our blog. I learned alot, it will be a continuous learning experience. I am sure the videos will get even better with time. Based on observing our interactions during our make shift recording I have decided on a few things I may invest in like a monopod and tripod. 

As for the main topic at hand, The Fresh Market itself. We attended The Fresh Market at The Shops At Wiregrass on October 18th for the first time. We loved it! The more we explore and venture out down here, we find places, things, and experiences that remind us of home while also making us feel more at home here. With November coming up at the time, I was already disappointed that we wouldn’t be attending The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show back home in D.C. Despite not having as many kitchen gadgets for sale The Fresh Market came quite close though somewhat better. An open air foodie’s paradise especially for the healthy foodies out there; as well as those who like to indulge. The warm weather and having plenty of space to spread out made this event better. The warm weather meant no freezing your behind off in November D.C. weather as you make the long trek to and from whatever was available for parking. Which usually isn’t anything close to the venue. I figured the lack of kitchen gadgets for sale was okay because that’s what the onsite Williams and Sonoma store was for. 

Overall, it’s brilliant. The Shops at Wiregrass is a very nice open air mall. Family oriented and very aesthetically pleasing shopping venue that already has the steady and heavy foot traffic in place. Therefore, if you vend the traffic is definitely there! As a vendor I have done more than my fair share of events that don’t pan out in that department so just thought that I would share that is definitely not an issue here. They shut down the main boulevard that goes through the mall and align the vendor tents right outside and along the shops. There was lot of fresh produce and fresh herbs. There were holistic herbal, natural remedies and products to  promote healthy eating and living. I made sure to get some kale and string beans. It was hard for me to stay away from the plants but I managed. I also purchased some Summer peach tea from the Urban Tea Gardens. Which led to a later purchase of a tea infuser (which by the way are hard to find in some of your regular chain stores I was surprised). The teas had very rich aromas that would just draw you in. The fall aromas reminded me of the real fall season as it is likely occurring back home, cool weather with red orange and yellow leaves the whole nine. 

I purchased and olive tapenade with blue cheese from Joy’s Gourmet to include with my antipasto. The olive tapenade was so flavorful and rich with olive oil, garlic and blue cheese chunky and creamy with just a small bit of bite to it. They had a chipotle mayo dressing that we really liked as well. The chipotle mayo was very robust in flavor with a perfect balance of heat from the vinegar based chipotle pepper blend used and would be a great condiment for sandwiches. 

The live music gave the event a bit of ambiance. There were a myriad of cuisines available from Mediterranean, Thai, Vegan, New England style seafood (ie: lobster rolls, clam chowder), Greek, Italian, and Caribbean. It was a great experience and event. Now that we know what the event is about and that it occurs monthly, we will definitely be back again. If you are a foodie and ever in the burbs of Tampa (Wesley Chapel) be sure to check out The Fresh Market at The Shops At Wiregrass, you definitely will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Trip To The ‘Butcher Shop’ = Live Blue Crabs

“We live in the middle of nowhere…” is something that I always find myself telling family and friends back home whenever they ask about whereabouts we live amidst the outskirts of the Tampa Bay area. Yet, at the same time, it may be a bit of an over stretch because we live close enough that if we choose to venture out to different parts of the city it isn’t a major ordeal. Anyways, we first became curious about this “Butcher Shop” upon receiving a coupon flier in the mail. The prices seemed so good, almost too good to be true.

So we set out in the middle of the week one evening and the address led us down the Bruce B. Downs (#BBD). We didn’t know that the Bruce B. Downs changes so immensely…drastically so only 20 minutes down! First, we passed through Tampa palms, which is a beautiful neighborhood. It seems a little older and a golf course community. There are subdivisions, very tall palms, and palm lined entrances. The palms tower over tower higher than the lamp posts and even the power lines. Ten minutes away from Tampa palms, there is a change like almost night and day. University City aka Suitcase City is a rough little area. It was kind of crazy to google “University City USF” and find travel advisories, warnings, etc. It does have it’s fare share of sub-urban sprawl and looks a little run down. Just be aware of your surroundings, don’t bother folks and they won’t bother you, do what you gotta do and go.

We checked out the “Butcher Shop”, Meat Depot. It wasn’t a bad place it just wasn’t what I expected and not what I was used to. Customer service was great , the guys were really friendly. They have package deals and family plans in which they allow substitutions. There was also a large amount of international grocery products, seasonings, and ingredients. The smell is nauseating and will overcome you. It’s not a rotten smell but it’s just raw. My husband, Papa Smurf assured me that this was to be expected, I had never been to a butcher shop before. Anyways, papa Smurf was beyond elated to find a pleasant surprise that they sold live blue crabs! He was so excited, he’s a crab fanatic…a crab-a-holic! He even makes his own dipping sauce and we haven’t had any crabs since we left Maryland. Crab prices start at $15.99/ doz. I was shocked! Let me tell you, we have been to some restaurants in “suburbia” where we live that have prices that will make your eyes twitch or your face freeze in place with mouth gaping wide. Anyways, the crabs were indeed alive, fresh, and tasted great once we steamed them.

Back home in Maryland, blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning are staples! In Maryland, Old Bay is put on everything, there are Old bay French fries (of course with malt vinegar, and ketchup too), Old Bay rotisserie chicken, Old Bay fried chicken, even Old Bay bagged potato chips sold in stores. Steamed crabs are a major part of Summers in Maryland, they are the stars of #BBQs and of course their namesake crab feasts. There are a number of all you can eat crab houses back home as well. Crab cakes are a common treat, there’s also crab dip and cream of crab soup. Jumbo lump is the way to go when it comes to these crabby treats! And authenticity is key when it comes to a real Maryland style crab cake, which usu has an even balance of breading and jumbo lump crab meat. I will have to get in depth and share some of these Maryland blue crab delicacies in the near future. Today, I will share with you the an “easy peasy” steamed blue crab recipe and of course Papa Smurf’s Condiment Dump Dipping Sauce.

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1-2 Dozens of Live Blue Crabs
2 Tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning
2 Fresh bay leaves
1 1/2 Cups of Vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar)
1/2 Can of beer (just use your favorite)
2-3 Cups of Water (enough to cover the entire pot….making the liquid a total of 2-3 inches deep)
A large tall stock pot or steamer pot with a lid

I have to warn you that live crabs are feisty! I still have memories of my father with his flimsy tongs vs feisty crabs with their pinchers and claws; and one of the crabs who running for the stairs. This happened when my great grandmother Florine came to visit all the way from California. With that bit of nostalgia being shared, don’t even attempt to put the into a boiling stockpot unless you are either an experienced crab steamer or you understand that an injury is likely. The method is simple, you just pour all of your ingredients into the pot, sprinkle the crabs with old bay seasoning (to your taste). Secure the lid, boil and steam on high heat for at least 20 mins, until the crabs are orange red and no longer blue (and no longer moving of course). Remove from the stock pot,, spread out the newspaper, crack out the mallets, and enjoy! Or try with…

Papa Smurf’s Condiment Dump Dipping Sauce...

2 Cups of Mayonnaise
2 tsp of Old Bay seasoning
2 Capfuls of Vinegar
2 tblspns of Ketchup
1-2 tblspns of Mustard
Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl and serve chilled with steamed crabs.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Breakfast With Smurfie #Couples Rituals

Breakfast has always been the husband’s way of showing his love. Well one of many ways. It’s not unusual to wake up to breakfast in bed or on a lazy morning sipping my coffee while he cooks. It works for me because breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. Sometimes I will even make breakfast for dinner…yes, it’s that deep, my love for breakfast that is. Our schedule has changed and it can get quite busy so I’m grateful for these #offdays (and late start days too). These days, on a typical #offday he will see Juliana off to her bus. Then, he will usually return with two cups of coffee in tow. His specialty is pancakes with sausage. Or he will serve up my favorite scrambled eggs (not too soft not too hard) with bacon baked to perfection; toast also baked---we don’t have a toaster yet---topped with my favorite grape jelly. Yes, I said baked bacon lol. If you don’t know you better ask somebody! If you have fried it but haven’t tried it, I urge you to bake your bacon! It’s less mess, no grease splatters and virtually no shrinkage!

After breakfast, we will usually venture out exploring around our neighborhood, window shopping, driving without a destination (#DWD), or look at open houses from new builders. There are quite a bit of new homes down here in our neighborhood as the area is fairly new and experiencing major residential and commercial growth. Though, most of our open house ventures take place after church on Sundays now.

I was inspired by an episode of The Chew that aired this past week. I decided that this Friday (#offday) I would make breakfast this time and that I would make homemade biscuits with sausage gravy and “over light” eggs. Papa Smurf loves his eggs just so, he prefers them soft. I have another cooking tip to share, this time it will be about eggs. But I will get to that later. Anyways, I was inspired by Chef Michael Symon on The Chew but I made it my own. Cooking for me is like interpretive dance to a musical masterpiece. Because let’s face it, almost everything has been done before. I watch a recipe on tv, read one in a book or online. I see a culinary masterpiece and then I cook it the way I see it, I play around with seasonings, extra ingredients to enhance the flavors and make it my own.

Sausage Gravy
1 fresh ground pork sausage roll (I used Jimmy Dean)
1 bunch of fresh scallions (green onions) chopped
1 tsp of sage
1/2 to 1 tsp of ground peppercorns (I used McCormick’s peppercorn medley)
1/2 to 1 tsp ground coriander and fennel (this is usu in the peppercorn medley so I am listing it in case you may be using a plain peppercorns)
1 pint whipping cream
1-2 cups of water

2 cups of flour (all purpose)
4 tblspns of  butter (cold and cubed)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder 
3/4 cups of milk or buttermilk
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup of water

Mix all of your dry ingredients together until evenly distributed. Next, add in your wet ingredients until you have a sticky lumpy dough. The dough should not be smooth or dry. A tip to consider is adding in your liquids slowly and gradually to achieve the right texture. Once your biscuit dough is at the consistency that you like you can either just use a scoop or large spoon to take out your dough and arrange it on a baking sheet. Or you can roll it out on a floured surface and use a biscuit cutter. I prefer the first method as it it fuss free. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on the edges. If you would like to keep your biscuits warm you can return them to the oven on a Warm/Keep Warm setting. Most ovens have a Warm/WM setting or you can set it to below 200 degrees.

Now for the biscuit gravy. In a large skillet brown your sausage. I added in a little over half of the scallions once the sausage was 3/4 of the way done to avoid burning the scallions; but still allow for caramelization and for the flavors to blend. I reserved the rest for a garnish. Once the sausage is browned reduce heat to a low/med low setting to simmer. Do not drain the oil from the sausage, you will need these drippings to make your gravy (at least a more flavorful one). Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour and whisk quickly. It will be ready once it turns a dirty blonde in color. Be sure not to let it burn. Next, add the whipping cream and whisk well to work all of the lumps in the cooked flour and to evenly distribute. Next, slowly add 1-2 cups of water to get the consistency that you would like for your gravy to have. It should have a little thickness to it. Reduce the heat to low, add in sage, kosher salt, ground peppercorns, and coriander. Be careful not to over season your gravy! Remember the ground sausage is already well seasoned. Cook on a low heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Taste your gravy to make sure it has the right flavor. One of my other secrets to cooking is that I taste and smell EVERYTHING! Measuring only gets you so far, and what good is it to get your measuring just right but your food tastes bad! Taste matters! LOL
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 My secrets to the perfect “over light” egg…
I can’t remember from whom or where I learned this technique but it’s been in my repertoire for quite a few years. My secret is….WATER! Yes, water. Something so simple huh? But it works wonders in helping you achieve the perfect texture for over light eggs. I start off by frying the eggs sunny side using just enough oil to coat the surface in a small to medium sized non stick frying pan over medium high heat. I drop the eggs in carefully so as not to break the yolks (this is also key). Then I add a pinch of salt and pepper to the top of the eggs while they are still raw (so the seasoning can melt in, also tastes better this way). As the edges firm up, and I begin to see a small ring of toast forming; and the whites are set like a firm gelatin pudding no longer liquid like but a solid white I know they are ready. So I slowly add water, just 1/4 to a 1/2 cup around the sides and bottom of the pan. Do not pour the water directly over the eggs or you will break the yolks. So basically I finish cooking the eggs with water and steam. The water should be just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Then cover the pan and cook over a reduced low heat and cook for an additional 2 minutes at the most. You can check the eggs during this time they should mirror the photo as far as looks. A little thin covering of the whites may coat your yolks but this is okay, the yolks will not be broken. You are mostly doing this to maintain the soft texture, prevent burning or over crispy egg whites. The other plus to this technique is that your eggs should slide right out, you shouldn’t even need a spatula.

Assembly: On a plate, place your biscuit, then top with sausage gravy, scallions and eggs. You may add salt and pepper to your eggs (to taste) again if needed or wanted. Enjoy!

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