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Christey and I live near the Intracoastal Waterway on the east coast of Florida. The Intracoastal is an unbroken stretch of water “highway” from New Jersey down through Florida, and up around to Texas, over 3000 miles. It’s usually just barely inland with frequent inlets allowing access to and from the sea. Some parts have been man made by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and some parts are completely natural. Our section is a little of both — a two mile wide, natural salt water lagoon, in which the Engineers had to dredge a channel to allow deeper water in sections.
There was a lot of sand left over from the dredging, so the Engineers created a series of islands in the lagoon called the Spoil Islands. Some are nature sanctuaries and may not be used. Others allow overnight camping.
Several challenges ago, I was looking ahead to Challenge #6. I said to Christey: “Forget the road trip, if we make it to #6, let’s do a boat trip instead!” Thank you, thank you everyone for voting for us and getting us to Challenge #6!
Once we knew we made it through, I immediately looked around for a boat rental. I have a boat I’m in the middle of restoring, but it still needs a little work. I didn’t think it’d be ready by the weekend:
We invited our friends Krissy (The Sugar Pixie) and Dave, along with their two kids to join us and our two little ones. Four adults and four kids, the cooler of food, plus extra stuff like pots and dishes…that’s a bit of space. I found a 21′ pontoon boat that was just the trick.
So, it was late Friday afternoon. We planned a Saturday afternoon picnic on one of the spoil islands. I needed to start cooking.
I realize it’s actually cold in parts of the world right now, but we’ve had a very mild autumn this year, even by Florida standards. The weather forecast was a high of 81F (27C). But, it’s fall, and for much of the Northern Hemisphere, it’s getting to be braising season. I wanted to braise for three reasons — it’s seasonal, it creates an awesome amount of flavor with very tender meat, and (last but not least) braises pack up and carry well.
Given the weather and the occasion, I decided to go with a sour-orange braised Cuban mojo pork, with a side of frijoles negros (Cuban black beans) and a citrus rice. For dessert, I made a pina colada cream pie in a handmade graham cracker crust, with hand-whipped cream added on the island. For drinks, I mixed tequila sunrise martinis.
There are canned black beans, and there are dried black beans, and I opted to go with the dried. These need to soak overnight in water, so a pound of beans was covered with water and placed in the fridge.
For the mojo, a picnic (shoulder) pork roast is covered with salt and pepper, then seared until browned on each side. This adds some great flavor compounds to the braise.
Some diced fresh ginger, garlic cloves, cherry peppers, and shallots are added to a baking dish along with sour orange — a quart of orange juice mixed with the juice of four limes. The liquid came about halfway up the roast.
The dish is covered with foil, and put in a 300 degree hundred oven for an hour or so, then the heat was lowered to 275 and the pork braised for another 2-3 hours (I was cooking until after midnight Saturday morning).
The pork was cooled, then put in the fridge, still resting in its braising liquid.
The next morning, I started with the pie. A cup and a half of graham crackers were crumbed in my food processor, along with a melted 3/4 stick of butter, and 1/3 cup of sugar. This was patted down into a pie plate, and then baked in a 350 degree oven for about 8 or 9 minutes to dry it out a bit.
Two cups of milk and half-and-half were added to a pot with 3/4 cups of sugar and heated to simmer. A couple egg yolks were whipped, tempered with some of the hot pie filling, then added to the pot, along with 1/4 cup corn starch mixed in a bit of milk.
Once thickened and simmering, about 1/3rd cup of pineapple juice was added, and 1/4 cup of coconut cream. The liquid cooled a bit, then was added to the pie crust. The pie then went into the fridge to chill.
The pork was heated again in the oven just to soften it enough to work with, which is why I love braising so much. It’s all tender and melting right out of the oven, but can be chilled then reheated at a moment’s notice, and might actually be better that way. Restaurants love that too — think they’re braising lamb shanks all afternoon waiting for someone to come in and order them hot out of the oven? No, they made them a day or two ago and reheat them when you order.
The beans were taken out of the fridge, rinsed, and put into a pot with new water. They were simmered for about an hour. Some chopped shallots, green pepper, bacon, and one of the bones from the pork shoulder were fried in a little oil, along with a tablespoon of cumin and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. These were added to the beans and everything was simmered for another two hours, until finally drained.
I made something of a faux-risotto for the rice. I didn’t want anything too risotto-creamy on a warm afternoon, but I definitely wanted more than a chunk of white rice. 3/4 cups of arborio was sautéed in butter and a minced shallot until the edges of the rice became translucent. A cup of white wine was added (a sav blanc) and the rice was stirred until the rice absorbed the liquid. Next, a cup of homemade beef stock was added, along with the juice of a Florida orange.
The rice simmered for about 15-18 minutes until the liquid was absorbed, then the zest from the orange and a lime were folded in to give little pockets of citrus punch.
For the martinis, tequila and orange juice were added in roughly 50-50 proportions. The grenadine would be added on the island to make the martinis have a bit of layered color.
A half hour before we left… time to pack up! From left to right: butter, cream, two limes and more beef stock, the tall drink container, sugar, grenadine, and kosher salt, rice and black beans in separate containers, the pork mojo, and the pie.
Did it fit?
Yes, but I knew that pie was going to give me trouble.
We drove to the marina (so, there was a short road trip involved!), then we were off onto the water!
Krissy took this shot of Christey, who is always behind the camera!
We checked out several islands. Some were full of people, others were designated for natural use only and couldn’t be touched. I rounded one island and saw the perfect place in front of us — a sandy spit and two natural beaches. Later, I found our island has the exotic name of “IR4″ (Indian River County, island #4), and can be found here: http://www.spoilislandproject.org/indianriver.htm (click the letters IR4 for a close-up).
We arrived around 2pm to a completely empty island. I was shooting for a 4pm picnic, so we played.
Dave caught a nice redfish! Too small to keep, so it didn’t end up being a guest for dinner.
Time to unpack and start cooking!
The pie slid around in its shell, but other than that, everything else survived undamaged and chilled. I broke out my portable propane stove and started to heat the food.
Disaster. The propane stove wouldn’t heat. I’d get a flame for a few seconds, then it would die. I switched tanks and poked and prodded, but then knew I’d have to go to plan B.
There were two campfire rings on the island, and someone even left a metal grate. If I had known that before we left, I’d have left the propane stove at home. I gathered some sticks and driftwood, and the meal was heated true castaway style (if a castaway had pots and a tupperware of pork mojo….)
The campfire worked really well, probably better than the stove would have. After everything had heated, the cream was whipped by hand in a bowl over ice, with some sugar thrown in at the end.
Picnic on a deserted island!
I mixed the drinks (who doesn’t bring a martini shaker when visiting deserted islands?) with a shaker of ice, strained the ice out, then added a bit of grenadine to each.
Braised pork mojo, over citrus rice, with a side of Cuban black beans:
Pina colada cream pie!
Great food, great company, and a great time on our own borrowed island!