Ep. 20 Travel Episode, You gotta Eat Here: South Florida and My Mixed Grill & Salad Bar
There's no place on earth like South Florida. The beaches are like sugar, the water is so blue and beautiful and the sunshine is abundant. I have been making the pilgrimage annually to get a break from the snow. I am always delighted with the produce and seafood that is in season during the winter. Strawberries are sweet, Oranges are around that I have never heard of and the fish is fresh and plentiful.
I hang out in between Sarasota and Ft. Meyers in a sleepy little community called Englewood. I love the slower pace and the neighborhood of Old Englewood is still a bit of a secret because the vibe is what I call Floridiana; houses, and buildings from the 40ties and 50ties all the way up to fancy gated luxury golf communities.
I love being able to walk to the Tiki Bar on the water and hop in the car 10 minutes to Manasota Beach. One of my friends gave me the idea of breakfast on the beach, which was brilliant because to get the free parking spots close to the beach, one has to be out of the house by 7:30 am in high season! Sunset happy hour is also a favorite, the crowds thin out and the birds are looking for their supper on the water.
My days are filled with walking in the nearby beach parks, kayaking, swimming, and shopping of course.
I highly recommend kayaking in the mangroves on Lido Key near Sarasota, it's a 2 hour guided tour with a guide who gives you the history of the Ringling family who owned the area way back when. Breakfast before in St. Armand's Circle is also a must. It's a great walking neighborhood to view some of the classic Florida flora and gracious homes of the area.
I do a lot of cooking while I am there, the seasonal produce is so motivating, being freshly picked and harvested. Everything looks and tastes like you think it should.
Even a simple deli sandwich platter for friends with fruit can look better with local fare.
I go to the local farmers' market for weekly inspiration. The food producers there set up shop all year round with goods like loaves of bread, peanut butter, seafood, and guacamole. Paella is made on-site and sold along with other local recipes. The citrus wagon filled to the brim with honeybells, a sweet orange variety, strawberries, and tomatoes always gets my attention.
Farmers' markets are always good for buying some special foods for dinner on the fly for friends. I like to make what I call a Mixed Grill and Salad Bar Situation. I simply prep vegetables and arrange them on platters for one to make a giant salad, grill a few different kinds of proteins, and add some grilled Cowboy potatoes. This is so easy to pull together and it looks stunning. I add a few local bottled condiments and olives oils, whip up a batch of chocolate avocado mousse, or grill pineapple with Nutella, and my work is done. So easy peasy, the secret is to have some fun, flavorful herbs and spices to brighten the natural flavors. So with farmers market season upon us in the Midwest, now is a great time to have people over and try your skills with a mixed grill combo.
How do I make a Mixed Grill & Salad Bar?
Start with what's available at the market- Greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant are good choices.
I like to have a couple of kinds of leafy greens, dark and spicy, and a few tender greens too.
New Potatoes are great for grilling, just microwave them until soft, split them in half and brush with olive oil and garlic, and brown on the grill at the end of the cooking.
Sausages are often available at the market or the local meat shop. Think local flavors.
Roll Italian Sausages in dry herbs like Herb's de province or dry Italian herbs before grilling.
Leave some of your larger lettuce leaves whole so folks can use them as wraps.
A crusty loaf of French bread and a small pitcher of olive oil and fig balsamic round out the meal.
All the prep can be done ahead except for the grilling.
I like to include a few dipping sauces like Yum Yum Sriracha mayonnaise and some other spicy elements for my pepper heads.
Vegetables show better on platters than bowls. Grill halved peppers and thickly sliced eggplants, marinate in your favorite Caesar or Italian dressing.
Giving Romaine halves a quick grill before serving adds a distinctive char flavor to your salad.