I had such a stellar time at the recent Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show, I just had to share more of the fun–the good-for-you fun! The Healthy Food Expo took up about a quarter of the floor space and showcased all things healthful. Smoothies galore, and all the kale, cauliflower and plant-based products you can imagine. I swear, if I heard someone say, “It’s soooo good for you” one more time, I was going to lose it. Perhaps the 300 coffees I sampled had something to do with this aggravation. Imagine the headline: “Crazed chef hurls kale and flax seed smoothies at food show attendees, screaming, ‘Detox this, you dirt-eating freaks!’” Fortunately, I‘m far too even-tempered to let trifles get under my skin.
Against my better judgment, I did sample quite a few of the meatless items. Several were OK, yet I was hard-pressed to identify any ingredients. Many were soy-based and all had a similar, sort of mushy, sort of rubbery texture, similar to that of poorly cooked, three-day-old stew from your elementary school cafeteria. But if that’s what the manufacturer had in mind, well … kudos to the meatless meat-makers!
Once away from the Dirt-to-Table section, things got a bit more interesting. Sangria on tap, anyone? Yeah, baby, that product has real potential, as did many other flavored types of booze that found their way to my palate. Fortunately, nearly every other booth offered some type of tasty prepared food, such as tacos, gigantic cheese displays, ice cream, pastries and, of course, the gems of those doughnut machines.
The most entertaining and filling part of the show was the competition area: a grilled cheese challenge between local high school culinary programs! I believe there were about 10 schools represented, each one creating an interpretation of this classic American fare. I really can’t remember all the sandwiches I sampled or which was the best, but I will say that the kids did an amazing job. I won’t be needing another grilled cheese for quite a while.
What I am craving, however, is sangria. What better to pair it with than a Spanish-clam-and-chorizo tapa? The important Cheffed-Up technique to this recipe is to have all your mise en place ready (just like a stir fry) and soak the clams with cornmeal in cold water for 30 minutes. Wash them thoroughly in several changes of water to ensure the briny bivalves are free of sand and grit.
Chef Bill’s Almejas a la Gaditana
• 3 lb. Little Neck clams, scrubbed and soaked with cornmeal
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 tsp. smoked paprika
• 1 cup white wine
• 1/2 cup dry sherry
• 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
• 1 jalapeno, diced
• 1/4 cup chorizo, diced
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil; add garlic, chorizo, jalapeno. Sauté 2 minutes, add clams, sauté 1 minute.
2. Add paprika, bay leaves, white wine, sherry. Bring to a boil, cover and steam 10 minutes.
3. Add parsley and adjust seasoning.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at [email protected], for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!