February 25 – March 3
Monday: Farro Tabbouleh with Feta
Tuesday: Pasta with Chickpeas
Wednesday: Winter Nicoise
Thursday: Pork Posole
Friday: To Naples, FL – Herbed Salmon, tomato and mozzarella salad from Publix Market, preceded by martinis and wine on our balcony overlooking the Gulf, in the dark. Lovely first night in Naples
Saturday: Blue Crab Salad, Shrimp Salad, Swan River Slaw from Swan River Fish Company – Martinis/Wine on the deck, in the dark. lovely second night in Naples
Sunday: Cocktails and bets on time of sundown at Mere and Hoddy’s, dinner with the Gleasons, the Masichs and our hosts, Mere and Hoddy at the Royal Poinciana Club – their famous seafood buffet. Beez and I had oysters on the half-shell, shrimp, salmon poke and, for a bit of warmth, oysters Rockefeller. We felt like the early cave dwellers on Spanish Coast.
Everyone calls it “the avenue”. What it is is a concrete walk about 7’ wide which winds for a mile and a half along the gulf coast between the beach and the beautiful landscaping and gardens of the high-rise condominium towers of central Gulf Shore Boulevard North in Naples, Florida. With its hibiscus hedges, its impeccably trimmed palms and close-cropped grass, this is one of the most impeccably landscaped plots on earth. Everything along this little strip of earth is perfect, except for the people. Generally in their 70s and 80s, most of the walkers have a distinct tilt or a hitch in their gait. Some of the older couples and singles walk so slowly that it is easy to imagine them being unsure of making it back to the manicured path to their building, much less traveling that path and ascending in the elevator to their home. This must lend a sense of high adventure to each morning’s trek. There are a lot of spontaneous ‘good mornings!’ expressed to strangers, perhaps with the thought that the number of good, or even endurable mornings is small and dwindling at this point in life. There is an overwhelming politeness, whether because of habit, or age, or a sense of pleasure in the environment, or a sense of existential satisfaction– it’s hard to say.
But these are lovely, if not particularly hale folks and I will not look this gift horse in the mouth. I will refrain from noticing the general level of halt, lameness and blindness. I will thank my lucky stars that we are able to spend a whole month here. And I will always return the ‘good mornings!’ and the nods and waves. It seems the least I can do to acknowledge my own good fortune.
We had just settled into Naples and were planning our first cooked dinner, when Mere and Hoddy invited us to watch the sundown at their place and be their guests for dinner at the Royal Poinciana Club. The company – two other couples in addition to Mere and Hoddy and us -was lively and down-to-earth and there was much laughter and very good food. The seafood buffet at the Royal Poinciana is a thing of beauty – a truly fine raw bar, which is all that Beez and I need. But of course, there is also meat and pasta and red snapper, halibut, grouper and salmon, baked, grilled, roasted, poached, ceviched and all of this in unlimited quantity, along with a spread of desserts worthy of a Viennese Coffee House.
You can see from the menus above that we haven’t gotten our Southwest Florida / Caribbean kitchen fired up yet, and I’m not sure when we will. We have fallen into a Southwest Florida state of mind in which the best time to do anything, including actually deciding to do something, is manana. So you’ll have to settle for a recipe from earlier in the week, cooked in chilly Pittsburgh and eaten in large part by Billy before his soccer game on Thursday night.
Come to think of it, Pork Posole, a Mexican dish is at least from one end of the Caribbean, albeit not from the islands, themselves. And come to think further of it, it was a damn fine dish for a cold night in Pittsburgh, with snow coming down and nothing at all like I imagine the conditions in Mexico are. Go figure.
In any event, this Mexican treat was presented by Ina Garten in her latest book, cook like a pro. Ina was in Pittsburgh last week and the Pink Parkas/Putters paid a pretty penny to sit in the rafters at Heinz Hall to hear Ina dish about food, entertaining, travel and Jeffrey. So, we have a hot-weather dish from Mexico, as interpreted by a Long-Island American chef, who was visiting Pittsburgh when it was enjoyed by shivering Pittsburghers, thousands of miles from where the whole shebang was originally dreamed up. Cooking, we feel, could bring the world together if only MSNBC and FOX would let it.
I don’t know that we’ll have a chance to try this recipe in Florida, a climate at least close to the one where it was worked out. But I do know that for those of you (Drew in Brooklyn, e.g.) struggling with snow and cold, this would be a good way to take your mind many degrees of latitude closer to the equator, and to give yourself a good feed at the same time. I’ll confess that my reason for picking this menu out of Ina’s book was simple – it involved sour cream and chips (both as optional add-ons – but telling me that sour cream and chips are optional is like telling Wimpy that one of his menu options is a hamburger).
(adapted from Ina Garten’s cook like a pro)
Timing: 25 minutes prep – 1 hour cooking
Ingredients: Serves 8
1 ½ lbs. Of lean, boneless pork loin, diced into ½-inch pieces
2 cups chopped onion
1/3 cup small-diced poblano pepper (we used about ¾ cup)
2 Yellow or Orange Bell Peppers, seeded and ¾-inch diced. (If you cut these too small they will simply deliquesce as the stew cooks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (we used a scant teaspoon)
1 teaspoon chili power
½ teaspoon dried oregano
6 cups of chicken stock
1 jar of medium salsa verde (around 12 ounces – “medium” refers to the heat level)
2 15 oz. Cans of white hominy, drained. (I found a large can of 32 ounces and used it all – it was fine)
1 can of black beans, drained (about 15 ounces)
Note: the recipe calls for the hominy and black beans to be rinsed and drained. We like the flavor of the liquid left after draining cannellini, black beans, garbanzos, etc., so we don’t rinse.
3 cups of yellow tortilla chips for cooking, extra for serving
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Lime wedges, sliced or diced avocado, sliced scallions, sliced radishes, grated Cheddar and sour cream for serving
Trim and dice the pork loin.
Dice and mince the vegetables, keeping the items separate, except for the peppers
Measure out the spices and drain the beans.
Measure out the chicken stock
Prepare the sides and put into serving bowls: sliced scallions, sliced radishes, diced avocado, sour cream, tortilla chips
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. When hot, add the pork and sauté for as long as it takes to lightly brown on all sides – around 8, up to 10 minutes.
Transfer the pork and any liquid to a bowl and set aside.
Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil and heat over medium, then sauté the onion for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add the poblano and bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now add the chili powder and oregano, and then the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute, then add the chicken stock and return the pork to the pot and stir to incorporate.
Bring to a simmer and add the hominy, the black beans and the green salsa, along with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 ½ teaspoons of pepper. Cook, partially covered for about 30 minutes. Taste and correct seasonings.
Add the tortilla chips and serve hot in bowls with a wedge of lime, chopped scallions, diced avocado, grated cheddar, sour cream and more tortilla chips on the side.