I just drank a large cup of coffee because I’m feeling tired and sluggish. The last of my hazelnut cream coffee was delicious; but now, all I really want is to take a nap. I started to write this post last night and stopped. Because then, all I wanted to do was go to bed. My theory is that my pants being too tight is restricting proper blood flow, which is making me shleepy. That has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m about to tell you, but just know, it’s an effort to keep the eyelids up right now.
What I actually want to talk about is how whenever I visit a place, my favorite attraction is obviously gonna be the edible stuff.
But beyond whatever weird and trendy restaurants a city has to offer, I really like to get a taste for the local flavor of an area.
Like if that place were slapped on a plate… what would it look like? Okay more so, what would it taste like?
Being that I’ve been kicking it in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 2 months now, not only have I started developing a pretty solid grasp on its flavor…but I kinda sorta crave it. A lot.
Cravings are the widest known source of tight-pants sleepy head syndrome. Just so you know.
See in my neck of the woods, I guess you’d say our local flavor involves a good bit of bbq and affiliated accouterments and maybe fried chicken and fried okra and fried green tomaters and a number of other things dunked in a vat of boiling fat. We also really dig fresh vegetation and grits, duh. You know, southern style.
Okay if we’re being honest, the local flavor of my hometown is more along the lines of Red Lobster and Applebees. But uh, you know… taking the general region as a whole.
However, as most are probably aware, the majority of Florida is not really a part of the south. It’s only at the bottom of the country because Florida serves as a catch-all state. Accordingly, Florida has an eclectic classification of food stuffs. And the Tampa area possesses quite the unique culinary culture all of its own, largely due to an immigration flux in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The result: a delicious mash-up of fresh sea food, Cuban flare and really ballin crusty bread. So crusty.
I think I might dig the chow vibe here so much, because it’s actually sort of similar to what I’m familiar with.
We have baked beans, they have black beans.
We have sweet potatoes, they have sweet plantains.
We have cornbread, they have Cuban bread.
We have barbecued pork, they have slow-roasted pork with a switch-up on the marinade/spice blend.
Maybe not. I told you… tight pants, sleepy head, not a good thinking combo.
Regardless, my point is that they’re all over some seriously good eats up in hur. Chow you’re not really going to find in other places.
Since I’m leaving in 2 weeks, I need to dapple around with Cuban flavors so I can take some home with me. Cause uh hello, that’s a way better souvenir than tacky shot glasses.
I guess I’ll probably end up grabbing a few of those on the way out too.
Anyway, I started this Floribbean feast with roasting a red pepper and some corn. If like myself you are no grill master, both can easily be done indoors. Chunk that corn in the oven, slap your pepper on a gas burner and keep on keeping on.
They make it really easy to pick up on though. Three major rules of thumb:
Do keep it simple.
Don’t make it complicated.
Use a bunch of green stuff.
Aren’t my vague subject pronouns and redundancy cute?
Real talk, the Cuban cooking style is generally laid-back from what I can tell.
Just so long as you let quality, fresh ingredients do the talking, you get a punch of flavor with just a pinch of effort.
Look, black beans.
You can read half-sentences about them from the lovely Fresh Market can.
Something about Latin American high-fiber, low-fat vulgaris. Yum.
Fresh Market is grocery store divinity. For me, meandering through their aisles is on the level of a normal girl browsing in Bloomingdales.
If that makes any sense. Today’s not my day for punchy grammar and intelligent analogies.
I question using the word “punchy” there. And if you were sitting next to me right now, you’d know I just misspelled both “grammar” and “intelligent.” I misspelled “intelligent” twice.
What does that say for me?
Just pardon my brain farts today. I need Gas-Ex for the head.
Speaking of gas, beans!
They’re super tasty and super simple. It’s kind of dish that you can just toss everything into a pot and go chop something else, maybe wash some dishes, stir the pot on your way past the stove, go tame the monstrosity of papers overtaking your counter, Facebook stalk that fine dude with the girlfriend real quick, then go back to the kitchen, and woah… when did this thick fragrant pot of sumptuous legumes get here?
Saying you’re not notoriously bad at making rice, the flavorful sauciness associated with these beans would be an absolutely perfect mate for some fluffy yellow rice.
…After writing the preceding line, I concluded that this was a futile effort.
Pants were unbuttoned, beds unmade.
Lies. I never make my bed. But I did get back in it and took one of those 30 minute semi-sleep naps.
Miraculous how a little semi-sleep clears the mind.
Okay, tally ho then.
They’re a lot like bananas, only more hardcore.
And by that I just mean heartier. Like tougher skin…sturdier… a manly man nanner.
It was lunch, my birthday, great little Argentinian place… I was choosing sides to accompany my churrasco steak. Not being familiar with a few of the options, I asked dear waitress what her favorite happens to be. Her reply, “maduros.”
“You’re not familiar? Then you may not like it.”
“Oh. Well what is it?”
“Fried plantains. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not familiar.”
“Um… okay. What are tostones then?”
“They are like little mashed fried plantain patties. If you are not familiar, you may not like them either.”
“I see. Well, I think I’ll just risk it with the maduros.”
“They are sweet…”
“Look lady, every tooth in my ever-loving head is sweet. Today, I am twenty-years-old…I am a woman. If I want fried plantains with my steak, then by God, I have that authority…familiar or not. Son of a biscuit, GIVE ME THE FREAKING BANANAS.”
I didn’t forreal say that last part.
But seriously, is there like some secret plantain society? I guess I wouldn’t know, not being “familiar” and all.
It was bananas. b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
Thankfully, I did not falter, f or I have thus discovered one of my new all-time fav side dishes.
Which goes to show…sometimes, a risk is but a golden sweet opportunity.
Roasted Red Pepper, Sweet Corn & Avocado Salad
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1 medium red bell pepper, washed
- 2 ears sweet corn
- 1 medium vine ripened tomato
- a handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- juice from 1/2 of a small Persian lime (about 1/2 tbsp)
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- coarse sea salt and black pepper
To roast the pepper: if you have a gas stove, you can simply place the pepper directly on the burner over medium heat. Turn often using tongs until the pepper is soft, fragrant and completely charred all over. Remove from heat. Working over a fine-mesh sieve or strainer (in order to catch all of the good pepper juice but keep out the seeds) Half the pepper and remove the seeds. Then, peel the outer layer of charred skin from each half. Slice the roasted pepper into thin strips. Place in a mixing bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Cover and refrigerate (you could do this earlier in the day or even the night before).
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the corn (husks and all) into the oven and allow to roast about 30 minutes. Remove the husks. Using a knife. scrape the kernels from the hull into a bowl and allow to cool.
Skin, pit and dice the avocado. Dice the tomato. Add both to the bowl with the red peppers along with the corn. Toss gentle with cilantro, olive oil and lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.
Serves 4 as a side.
Smokey Black Beans
- 2 strips bacon
- 1 tbsp reserved bacon grease
- 1-2 cloves garlic (depending on your taste), minced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- ‘1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 can (15 oz) can black beans
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp dry oregano
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1 small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- juice from 1/2 small Persian lime
- 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Fry the bacon to crisp, set aside to drain on paper towels.
Heat the tablespoon reserved bacon grease in a sauce pan over medium heat. Saute the garlic, diced onion and pepper until the begin to soften. Add the black beans with their liquid and bring to a light boil. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the seasonings, lime juices, and vinegar. Crumble in bacon slices.
Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes.
Fried Sweet Plantains (Platanos Maduros)
- 2 large ripe plantains
- 1/4 cup butter, melted or vegetable oil
- 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cashew pieces
Cut off the ends, and peel the plantains. Slice the fruit diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet. Add the plantains and mix in the brown sugar. Saute about 2 minutes on each side. Add in the cashews and continue to cook until they begin to caramelize remove and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.