Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mediteribbean Cuisine

Well, October is behind us now and we are gearing up for the season which, for us, officially starts now. Lots of hours have been spent in the kitchen, and as I do often, a menu re-design has transformed our menu into a plethora of dishes founded from my roots and my passion for Mediterranean dishes and the availability of fresh Caribbean ingredients. The result is a selection of fresh seafood, pork, beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian prepared in the simple,but elegant style of Italy, Greece and Spain, which I call Mediteribbean.
The result of the new beachfront smoker and wood grill, now complete with stainless steel lid, has sent my culinary imagination on fire (pun intended) in finding ways to infuse the smokey flavor of Craboo Wood into some of the dishes that come out of my main kitchen. One trip to the veggie market in Dangriga answered my own question. I bought abundant amounts of zucchini, Roma tomatoes, eggplant, white onions and sweet peppers, which I would cut into large enough chunks and grill them over the Craboo wood. First I marinated the veggies in olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, lots of mashed garlic and a spoonful of Dijon. When the fire was ready, I grill the veggies, closing the lid for a few minutes to dampen the fire and let the wood smoke for a little while.

When the veggies are cooked, I can use them in lots of dishes. I finely dice a little and added to one of our side dishes, a cornmeal polenta and the result was an absolutely sublime creamy polenta with a hint of smoke and sweet peppers. It blended perfectly with the Romano cheese I add to it at the last moment. Now THAT'S Mediteribbean. Another use for these veggies is a great additive to some crispy sauteed vegetables for my vegetarian marinara. I'll add a few of the larger pieces after I've sauteed the other veggies and just when I add the marinara sauce. After a light tossing, the subtle smokey flavors add depth to the marinara that would be impossible to ascertain without the smokey vegetables. The uses for these veggies is endless, to using them actually as a spice blend to centering them on a piece of crostini made from our home made sourdough bread, drizzling olive oil over the top and a little shaved Parmesan. I put into a hot oven, and in a few minutes have a great appetizer or salad accompaniment.
The grill is not just for vegetables, mind you , It's versatility lend to the slow Jerk smoking we do with our pork tenderloins and whole chickens. We serve the slow smoked pork tenderloins, which have been rubbed with my own jerk spice blend, over a bed of spicy Cuban black beans after it has been basted with my homemade honey jerk BBQ sauce, to which I have added ground smoked habenero peppers. The smoked chickens are used as an entree and as a topping for our BBQ chicken pizza. This pizza uses our BBQ sauce as the sauce and is finished in the end with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. The smokey chicken also in nice in pasta, like sweet Italian sausage and smoked chicken Alfredo. The shining star of the grill will come every Friday night, while we simplify our menu and offer Lobster, Shrimp and Fish as well as steak, cooked to order on the wood grill. We make a fabulous basting sauce by melting butter and adding an equal amount of our BBQ sauce, chopped pineapples and a plethora of ground peppers. The simple flavors of the grill take care of everything, the rib steaks are rubbed and basted with garlic oil. The upper rack of the grill will keep roasted corn on the cob hot and the resulting plate can only be described as....well....Mediteribbean. One thing I am anxious to try, will be a wood grilled pizza, I'll have my camera ready and report on that in my next blog, but I think I can place it on a kamal on the rack, then transfer directly to the rack after a generous basting of olive oil.

As menu planning goes with me, that is just a small sample of the actual new menu. Other items of course feature lots of fresh fish, like pesto baked grouper or Seafood marinara. Fillet Oscar Mediteribbean are medallions of beef tenderloin, pan seared and topped with diced lobster meat, hearts of palm and a Bearnaise sauce, served with pesto potatoes. Shrimp scampi has been a mainstay on my menus for my entire 30 year cooking career, but the availability of the fresh shrimp from the many shrimp farms around make it a must. We also prepare a Lobster Tail Scampi appetizer for two, featuring a butterflied lobster tail sauteed in olive oil, lemon, wine and garlic, the signature scampi sauce of generations. It is also enhanced by a fresh herb lend I chop nightly consisting of herbs from my upstairs container garden which is on the "back" of the building, sheltered from the wind driven salt air that can burn delicate little herbs. I find the oregano does well anywhere, and imagine clumps of it coming out of scraggly rocks overhanging the Mediterranean sea on precarious cliffs. Its tough. The basil, once established does well as does a variety of thyme here. The 3 herbs make for a great blend and add the extra freshness whether added to a dish while cooking or sprinkled over the top of a pizza or pasta.
To round out the Mediteribbean menu, I've selected a center cut of boneless pork loin to star as the main attraction in Pork Loin Picatta. After cutting about three-quarter inch thick medallions, I pound out the cutlets, dredge in a seasoned flour and saute in olive oil with white wine, capers, garlic and lemon. Served with pasta with roasted vegetables and topped with a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Keeping in mind that this is of course just the base menu and that 3-6 features of the day are usually added at the 11th hour as fishermen return or my ADD personality sees a breadfruit and ..... God forbid..... I go off on a Breadfruit tangent, or some similar such circumstance that pretty much describes my culinary career. Indeed, I can get very excited about a simple edible morsel and my imagination can take just about any ingredient and make it center stage for an evening or 2. "Its what defines a passion," I tell my wife, after waking her at 3am to tell her my latest food preparation fantasy.
"It defines something!" she mumbled as she rolled over and went back to sleep.
Angela too, has been refining recipes for her ever changing dessert menu. Chocolate is always the favorite and she brought lots of specialty items for her desserts back with her from the states. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with in her secret labratory with all those measuring spoons and other items I try never to use.
For now....You'd Better Belize it.... and now you're hungry too!