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.
Mixed Grill and Salad bar for 6
For the Grill:
6 Meat, Poultry or Plant-based Sausages, rolled in Dry Italian Herbs
4 Boneless Chicken Breasts, marinated in 1/4 cup of Caesar Dressing
1 Large Globe Eggplant, sliced and marinated in 1/4 cup Italian Dressing
1 Pound Extra Large Shrimp, peeled and deveined, dusted with Cajun Seasoning
1 head of Romaine lettuce, split in half and brushed with olive oil
1 zucchini, split lengthwise, marinated in with the eggplant
2 Portobello mushrooms, stem removed
1 red pepper, split in half, and seeded
1 sweet yellow onion cut in half horizontally
1 box of baby greens or baby spinach
1 English Seedless Cucumber, sliced
2 ripe large tomatoes, chopped
1 15 ounces can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup of pitted Kalamata Olives
1/2 cup of pickled onions or chopped red onion
1 loaf of French Bread with olive oil for dipping
Lemon or flavored olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar
Wash hand before prepping food. All items for the salad bar can be prepped in advance and placed on a platter and bowls. After that, most of the work is done on the grill and can also be done earlier in the day and served cold.
You will want to start with the things on the grill that take the longest to cook. I put on my onion that has been cut in half, face down with the cut half directly on the grill. I just leave it there and let it cook during the whole process.
Next, grill the vegetables because they can sit a bit at room temperature while you are grilling the protein.
After they are cooled, you will cut them up into smaller pieces and place them on a platter for serving.
Finish with the meats and cook until 165F for the sausages and chicken. The shrimp will turn pink when ready.
The vegetables can be a little undercooked because if you overcook them, they will become soggy quickly.
If you plan to grill a pineapple or stone fruit for dessert, I would recommend doing it right after the entrees while the grill is still hot, be sure to brush it off and burn off any meat flavors before cooking.
Storage tip: I love to pack up the leftovers and store them in containers so I have access to them during the week to whip up a quick salad. The leftover meats are great served cold. Be sure to store leftovers within 2 hours of serving.
Serving Suggestions: I like to present this meal buffet or family-style, so all the picky eaters can get exactly what they want and how much. Sometimes I throw in a Charcuterie Tray as an appetizer for cocktail hour. Colorful platters and mismatched bowels make it visually interesting. Don't forget to add decorative greens to the table to add an accent of color. If you want to serve a tasty simple orange dessert, check out my Moroccon Orange recipe here.
For beverage pairing, I would suggest a lighter Pinot Noir such as Angeline from California.
I really love this way of entertaining because I can be creative with the ingredients and most of all they are presented with minimal cooking to enhance their natural flavors. I never have to worry about dietary restrictions because everyone can find something they like. I hope you try this idea and use it as a template to change and add according to your taste. Your guests will enjoy it, I promise!
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