Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Apple Kielbasa Coins - Delicious and EASY!!!!

If you like kielbasa, apple, and maple, I've got an unbelievable easy and tasty dish for you - Apple Kielbasa Coins from While it claims to serve six, I think it's barely enough for 4 sausage lovers. It takes 30 minutes or less to prepare.

- 1 & 1/2 pounds of cooked kielbasa cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 1/4 cup apple juice
- 1/4 cups apple jelly
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup

- In a large skillet, bring sausage and apple juice to a boil.
- Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- Uncover and cook 5 minutes longer.
- Drain. (Actually, I had nothing to drain because all the juices had cooked off.)
- Add jelly and syrup. Cook and stir until jelly is melted and sausage is coated.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Potato, Bacon, Corn Chowder - Nice and Easy

Here's a tasty and easy potato, bacon, corn chowder that I found at

Although the recipe reportedly serves 4, my experience is that it would serve 6 to 8.

Preparation takes 20 to 30 minutes. Cooking time is 20-30 minutes, depending on whether you use precooked microwavable bacon or if you start by cooking uncooked bacon. I used the precooked bacon, but I suspect the results would have been even better by starting with the uncooked bacon.


- 1/2 cup diced bacon
- 4 medium potatoes, chopped
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cups water
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups cream-style corn
- 2 12-ounce cans or a 1 pound, 4 ounce package of frozen cream style corn
- 2 teaspoons salt
- pepper to taste
- 2 cups half and half or light cream, scalded


- Sauté bacon until browned and crisp.
- Add chopped potatoes and onions.
- Add water, corn, and seasonings.
- Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Stir in half and half. Heat through, but do not boil.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chicken with Marsala, Mascarpone, & Mustard Sauce over Fettuccine - Another Terrific Giada Dish

Chicken with a sauce of Mascarpone Cheese, Marsala Wine, and Dijon mustard over fettuccine pasta is one more example of a terrific dish from Giada de Laurentiis. After tasting this dish, I understand why it is a five-star recipe with over 800 reviews on ( Thanks Giada!!

It is very easy to make and takes about 50 minutes total. It yields 5-6 servings. Since I was only preparing it for two of us, I reduced the amount of chicken to about 10 ounces. However, I did not change the sauce recipe. The sauce was so good that the two of us finished it. I think if I was making it for 5-6 people, I'd make more sauce.


- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut crosswise into 3 pieces
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 pound cremini  mushrooms, sliced (Baby bella mushrooms are essentially the same thing)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 cup dry Marsala wine
- 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus whole sprigs for garnish
- 12 ounces dried fettucine (I used fresh fettucine)


Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook just until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cool slightly.

- While the chicken cools, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat.
- Then add the onion and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic, and sauté until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 12 minutes.
- Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in the mascarpone and mustard.
- Cut the chicken breasts crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the chopped parsley. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes for dried pasta or 3-4 minutes for fresh pasta. Toss the fettuccine with 3 tablespoons of butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Swirl the fettuccine onto serving plates. Spoon the chicken mixture over the fettuccine, and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, Sarasota - A Nice Lunch

A friend and I recently set out to have lunch at the Old Salty Dog on City Island in Sarasota. However, when we got there, it was packed. So, we decided to try the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill ( on Longboat Key. It was a good choice.

The Dry Dock is located on Sarasota Bay. It has both indoor and outdoor dining. We decided to eat inside. We were seated at a window-side table with a nice view of the waterfront.

The Dry Dock has an extensive luncheon menu ( I immediately spotted one of my favorite sandwiches - lobster rolls, which I ordered. The dish comes with two lobster rolls, which are packed with lobster mixed with light mayo, chopped celery, green onions, lettuce and tomato, and served on a toasted, buttered, New England frankfurter roll for $18.95. The dish comes with a side of either cole slaw or french fries. I chose the slaw. Both the lobster rolls and the slaw were excellent. I think I would prefer some other type of roll for the lobster rolls, but that's a matter of personal preference. What's really important is the lobster filling. When I mentioned to our waitress that I would prefer the lobster rolls on some other type of roll, she mentioned they could probably do that for me next time.

Until I tasted these lobster rolls, my favorites had been at Sharky's on the Pier in Venice. I now have a new favorite.

My drink was a glass of Sensual Malbec from Argentina for $7. It was tasty, and the serving size was nice.

My friend, who had lived in the UK, had fish and chips. He said the fish and chips were delicious, but not as good as the excellent British version.

Our server, Nicole, was very professional.

I look forward to returning to the Dry Dock.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Excellent Crab and Ricotta Manicotti and Giada de Laurentiis are always great sources for delicious recipes. In searching for a recipe to use some leftover fresh ricotta cheese, I found a wonderful Giada crab and ricotta cannelloni recipe posted on I was attracted by the fact that it contained crab, which we love, and by its mostly very favorable 241 reviews.

Since I could not find cannelloni at Publix or Fresh Market, I used manicotti, which means "sleeves" in Italian.

(If you ask me the difference between cannelloni and manicotti, I could not tell you. There are many conflicting explanations on the Internet. In some case, the two are used interchangeably. In others, manicotti tubes are described as being wider; or manicotti are described as being made from crepes rather than pasta. The bottom line is that the supermarket manicotti are tubular pasta shells that are suitable for stuffing.)

The recipe serves 6-7. The filling was enough to fill 14 manicotti sleeves - the number contained in the box I purchased. It is a bit pricey if you use lump crab, which I did. I used Chesapeake Bay lump blue crab from Fresh Market. It cost $29.99 for a 1 lb container.

The recipe is easy to make. However, making the Bechamel sauce, which requires constant stirring, took me about 25 minutes, rather than the 10 minutes stated in the recipe.

The verbatim recipe with reviews can be found at:


- 1 box (8 ounces) cannelloni or manicotti pasta (12-14 shells)
- 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 pound lump crab meat
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- Bechamel sauce (see recipe below)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, 3/4 cup Parmesan, egg yolk, basil, crab, salt, and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Fill the pasta with the crab mixture and place in a buttered baking dish. Top the filled cannelloni with the Bechamel Sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake until bubbly and the top is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bechamel Sauce


- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk warmed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg


In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes (do not allow the sauce to boil). (As I mentioned above, this step took me about 25 minutes.)

Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cool, and then cover and refrigerate.)

Yield: about 4 cups

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cipriani - Delicious Papparedelle & Tagliolini Pasta

During the past month, I set out to find pappardelle pasta for one dish and tagliolini pasta for another.

Pappardelle are are broad thin noodles. I wanted to use this pasta with an Umbrian pork ragù. Pappardelle originated in Tuscany and are used in some very popular dishes such as pappardelle alla lepre (papardelle with hare sauce) and pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (pappardelle with wild boar ragù).

Tagliolini, also known as tagliarini, are long, very thin, cylindrical noodles which originated in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy. I wanted to use them for Tagliolini alla Scivolosa from the famous Roman restaurant Sora Lella.

I could not find either pasta at Publix, but did find Cipriani pappardelle and Cipriani tagliolini at Fresh Market. Both pastas were fantastic, and worked very well with the the dishes I prepared.

Cipriani was founded in Venice, Italy in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of the famous Harry's Bar in Venice. The Cipriani family still owns Harry's Bar, as well as Cipriani restaurants in New York, London, and Hong Kong.

An 8.82 ounce (250 gram) box of either pasta sells at Fresh Market for $7.99. Both boxes contain 5 servings, and both are certified Kosher.

Lemartine, Another Wonderful Wine from Poggio Antico

As I have mentioned in previous postings, Poggio Antico winery, located in the commune of Montalcino, Tuscany, is one of my favorite wineries. Poggio Antico is well known for its superb Brunellos. In January of this year, it introduced a new wine -Lemartine, a wine which it produced in 2010. I purchased several bottles during a visit there last summer. I served the first bottle  at a special dinner the night before last. It was terrific. I think the winery best describes this wine as "a hearty, rich, and elegant wine." 

Lemartine is a red wine which is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Petit Verdot. The juices of the three types of grapes are aged separately for 10-11 months in 225-liter French oak barriques. After blending, they are aged a further 4 months in bottles before being released.

Lemartine is named after an old stone family homestead built on the Poggio Antico property over a century ago. The wine is classified as a Tuscan I.G.T. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

I paid 22 (US$27.28 at 1 = US1.24) per bottle at the winery. I have not seen this wine in the U.S.

The main wine I served at the dinner the other night was a wonderful 2004 Poggio Antico Brunello Riserva. Others such as Wine Spectator, which rates it at 96 points, have already done a superb job of describing this wine.

The menu for the meal was Italian, with the exception of the appetizer:

- Tomato, avocado, mango salsa with chips
- Carabaccia - Tuscan Onion Soup
- Parmesan Cheese Flan (Sformato di Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- Pappardelle Pasta with Umbrian Ragù
- Strawberry, Mascarpone, Marsala Pudding (Budini di Fragole, Mascarpone, e Marsala)

Typical of Poggio Antico's responsiveness to its clients, when I asked for technical fact sheets about the wines I served, they were sent to me within hours,

For an earlier posting on Poggio Antico, see:

The URL for Poggio Antico's web site is:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Coyne's Pier 28, Sarasota - Authentic Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

Since moving from Maryland to Florida over a decade ago, I have searched for authentic, Maryland-style crab cakes made from blue crab. Foolishly, I have believed menu claims at a number of restaurants that they served Maryland-style crab cakes, some with jumbo lump crab meat. Last week, I was again disappointed when I tried the alleged jumbo lump crab cakes at Pincher's Crab Shack in Lakewood Ranch.

Some restaurants think that if they start with jumbo lump crab meat and then grind it into a paste in a food processor that they're creating the real thing. However, that does not work. Authentic Maryland-style jumbo lump crab meat sandwiches have to satisfy at least the following criteria:
- Use fresh meat from jumbo-sized blue crabs, not imported canned crab meat
- Leave the meat in recognizable lumps
- Use very little filler

Finally, last night, I found the genuine article at Coyne's Pier 28 (, next to Costco in Sarasota. Coyne's knows the real thing because the owners are from Maryland's Eastern Shore and operated their original restaurant in Ocean City, MD starting in 1988.

My wife, our daughter, and I all had the crab cakes last night, and they were delicious. My wife and daughter had the crab cake platter, which comes with two crab cakes and two sides - vegetable of the day and starch of the day - for $26. The crab cakes were served with Pier 28's Spicy Remoulade. (I've never seen a remoulade served with crab cakes in the Baltimore-Annapolis area.)

The vegetable of the day was way overcooked asparagus. The starch of the day was red roasted potatoes. My wife and daughter asked our server, Michelle, if they could substitute the Bawlmer Nuggets that were listed on the chalk board specials by the door. Michelle arranged the substitution. It turned out that the nuggets were like ordinary Tater Tots. ("Bawlmer" is how Baltimoreans pronounce the name of their city.)

I had the crab sandwich, which is served with a choice of crackers or on a toasted bun with mayo for $15. It also comes with a side. I chose cole slaw, which was very nice.

I started with the Prince Edward Island mussels with pan-seared andouille sausage, tomato puree, fresh herbs, chardonnay, and a butter finish for $12. It also comes with pieces of toasted bread to dip in the sauce. I loved this dish. The mussels were excellent; there was lots of sausage; and the sauce was terrific. It's on my list to order again.

Our server was excellent.

Coyne's has lots of other appealing dishes on the menu, which is detailed on its web site, but I'd probably have a hard time not ordering the crab cakes and mussels again.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Darwin's on 4th, Sarasota - I love It

Last night, my wife, three friends, and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Darwin's on 4th ( in Sarasota. This was no surprise because we have had a number of excellent dining experiences at two of the three other locations where chef Darwin Santa Maria has operated restaurants in Sarasota. Our first experience was at his first restaurant, the small Selva Grill on Clark Road at Swift. Later, we had excellent meals when he moved Selva Grill to a larger venue on Sarasota's Main Street. We missed the opportunity to eat at his highly rated Cottage Restaurant on Siesta Key, which he still serves as a consultant.

When friends recently invited us to join them for dinner at Darwin's on 4th, his newest venture, we jumped at the chance. We had read good reviews of this restaurant and were eager to try it.

Chef Darwin, who is originally from Peru is an exceptionally creative and talented chef, who not only incorporates the influences of his native Peru, but of other cuisines as well. One way in which Peruvian cuisine differs from that of other Latin American cuisines is that it is influenced by the large ethnic Japanese community of about 50,000. Chef Santa Maria has incorporated Japanese tastes into a number of his dishes.

One unique aspect of Darwin's on 4th is that it also has its own microbrewery. The brewmaster, Jared Barnes, is very creative. One of our friends with whom we dined is a beer connoisseur. He loves the beers at Darwin's. I tried one sip of the first beer he had, and was really impressed. It is called Betrayal. It is an Oak Aged Imperial Stout with tastes of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla. It is very powerful, with an alcohol content of 10%.  If you're a craft beer lover, check out Darwin's beer menu at

My wife started with an appetizer of Shrimp Spring Rolls with creamy shrimp, avocado aioli, and sweet chili sauce for $10. It was superb.

I started with Choritos - pan-roasted, fresh, Prince Edward Island mussels with Aji Amarillo butter and lime juice for $13. They were incredibly delicious.

My wife's entrée was Chef Darwin's Skirt Steak, an 8 oz. skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, beet relish, and sweet plantains for $26. She loved this dish at Selva Grill and was delighted to see it on the menu at Darwin's. As usual, it was wonderful. She likes it so much, she can't bring herself to try any other entrées.

Instead of having an entrée, I had a ceviche called Mayya Shrimp Ceviche for $13. It had shrimp, lime juice, orange juice, red bell peppers, avocados, cancha (crisp Peruvian corn kernels), and plantain chips. Every morsel was mouth-watering.

In the ceviche portion of the menu is another type of Peruvian raw seafood dish known as tiradito (, which differs from ceviche because it is sliced in long slices rather than chopped. One of the tiradito dishes is an example of a dish with Japanese influence. The Wahoo Tiradito has ponzu sauce, a citrus-based Japanese sauce, which I love. The Wahoo Tiradito also has ginger aioli, cucumber, mango, and seaweed salad.

For dessert, my wife had the Tumbao Pot of Mousse, bittersweet and white chocolate mousses, café cappuccino, tartufo chocolate, and mango and raspberry sauces for $7. It was outstanding.  

My dessert was the Lavender Honey Poached Pear with goat cheese ice cream and black pepper caramel sauce for $7. Fantastic!

Our wine was a 2010 Decero Argentinian Malbec from the Mendoza Valley for $40. It was very nice.

Our server, Enrique, was extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and attentive.

The atmosphere at Darwin's is very nice.

I strongly recommend making reservations.

Darwin's is located at 1524 4th St. Phone 941-343-2165.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eggplant Custard with Tomato and Basil Sauce from Trequanda, Tuscany

Eggplant Custard with Tomato and Basil Sauce (Sformatino di Melanzane con Pomodoro e Basilico) is a nice side dish. Although I enjoyed it, I would probably not make it again because it's not quite my "cup of tea." However, I'm posting the recipe because I think many would enjoy it.

It is from a restaurant called Il Conte Matto (The Crazy Count), in the small Tuscan town of Trequanda, a few miles north of Montepulciano. I obtained it from Beth Elon's wonderful book, "A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany." It serves 4 and is easy to make.

It can be prepared in a baking dish or in large individual molds (ramekins). I used ramekins. If you use a baking dish, slice the custard onto a serving platter and pour the sauce over it. The individual molds can be turned out onto the sauce.

1. For the Custard
- 1 pound of eggplant, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 egg plus 1 yolk
- 3 heaping tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus additional at table

2. For the Sauce
- 1 & 1/2 pounds (about 4) large ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 3 sprigs basil, chopped, and some additional leaves for garnish
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- salt and freshly ground pepper

- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees
- Put the eggplant into a colander, mix some salt through it, and leave it to rest for at least half an hour in order to rid it of any bitter juices. Squeeze it dry in a towel. Then sauté gently in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft. If need be, add a bit of boiling water and allow to cook out.
- Place the eggplant, cream, egg, egg yolk, and Parmesan into a food processor and blend until amalgamated.
- Put the mixture into individual molds or a baking dish, and place in a bain marie of boiling water. (We do not have a bain marie, so I set the individual molds into a square baking pan with high sides, and poured the boiling water about half way up the sides.) Bake for half an hour, if individual molds, or 45 minutes if using a baking dish. (It took 45 minutes with the method I used.) Test for doneness by sticking a sharp knife into the custard. If it comes out clean, it is done. Cool well.
- Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes and basil together, and pour into a bowl. Mix in the vinegar, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the custard with the sauce, garnished with fresh basil leaves. Serve with more sauce and Parmesan at table.

Tomato Bruschetta from La Locanda al Castello di Sorci, Tuscany

This Tomato Bruschetta recipe is from La Locanda al Castello di Sorci via Beth Elon's book, A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany. It involves a tomato and garlic sauce rather than chopped tomatoes. While it is a nice dish and easy to make, I prefer bruschetta with chopped tomatoes. This one is worth trying if you prefer a sauce.

FYI, the "sch" in bruschetta is pronounced like the "sch" in the English word "school," not like the "sh" in "shot."

While the book says it serves 4, it produces enough sauce to serve 6 as an appetizer.

- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (use a high quality extra-virgin olive oil.)
- 6 Italian plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or a 1 lb 12 oz can of peeled tomatoes chopped into small pieces
- a good pinch of peperoncino (hot red pepper)
- 1 small bunch chopped basil
- salt
- 4 thick slices of rustic bread toasted (I found that the sauce covered many more than four slices.)

- Press 1 clove of garlic into the oil over a medium fire.
- As soon as the oil begins to bubble, add the tomatoes, mashing them into the pan. Add pepper.
- Cook until thick.
- Add the basil and salt, and set aside.
- Halve the remaining garlic clove, and rub onto the toasted bread.
- Cover the toast with a spoonful of sauce, and serve warm.

Strawberry Semifreddo, A Tuscan Dessert from Frances Mayes

If you like strawberries and ice cream, you should really enjoy Strawberry Semifreddo (Semifreddo alla Fragola) from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, and other works. I found the recipe at It serves 8 to 10 people, and is fairly easy to make.

- 1 & 1/2 pints of strawberries, stems removed
- 1 tablespoon of orange juice
- 1 & 1/4 cups sugar (two tablespoons will be used in one part of the recipe, and the rest in another part.)
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup of whole milk
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese
- 1 & 1/2 cups of heavy cream

- Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a few inches all around the sides
- Puree the strawberries (reserving and refrigerating several pretty ones) with the orange juice and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Chill the puree until ready to use.
- Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water and bring almost to a boil. In the top, beat the eggs with the remaining sugar, the milk, and the vanilla. Place over the simmering water and whisk continuously for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and forms trailing ribbons. (This took me about 15 minutes.) Cool in the fridge for about 1 & 1/2 hours.
- When the egg mixture has cooled, whisk in the mascarpone and all but 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until firm peaks form. With a spatula, fold the cream into the strawberry and mascarpone mixture. Pour into the loaf pan and freeze for at least four hours. Refrigerate the reserved puree.
- When ready to serve, unmold the semifreddo by loosening the plastic wrap, then inverting the pan onto a serving dish. Slice or leave whole the reserved strawberries. Add them to the reserved puree and spoon this over the semifreddo in the dish, or over individual servings.

Thin Spaghetti with Asparagus and Shrimp, from Pisa

I love Thin Spaghetti with Asparagus and Shrimp (Spaghettini con Asparagi e Gamberi) from page 249 of Beth Elon's book, a Cullinary Traveller in Tuscany. She obtained the recipe from La Taverna dei Gabbiani, Marina di Pisa, at the mouth of the Arno River. It is relatively easy to make and serves six. I added extra shrimp to the recipe.

- 1 pound large shrimp (I used a pound and a half of medium shrimp). Get shrimp in the shell because the shells are used to make stock.
-1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine. (Publix supermarkets sell single-glass containers of chardonnay and other wines, so I didn't have to open a bottle for this small amount of wine.)
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes - peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 1 small bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 pound of spaghettini or other long, thin pasta.
- 1 pound of asparagus, steamed or boiled until cooked, but still firm, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- salt and freshly ground pepper

- Peel the shrimp, and remove the black vein. Prepare a stock with the shells and heads by putting them in a pan with 2 cups of water and boiling for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the shells, reserving the stock and keeping it at a simmer. Chop the shrimp into bite-sized pieces. (That step is unnecessary if you buy medium shrimp.)

- In a large pan big enough to hold the pasta and the sauce, sauté the chopped shallots in the oil. Add the shrimp, and sauté for another three minutes.

- Pour in the white wine. As it boils, add the tomatoes and parsley, and cook for another five minutes. Add a good amount of salt and freshly ground pepper, and lower the heat.

- Drop the pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. As soon as it begins to boil again, turn off the heat. Drain the pasta, and add to the pot holding the shrimp. Almost cover with the stock which was made from the shrimp shells. Begin to mix the pasta and sauce, adding more stock as the pasta absorbs. Add the chopped asparagus at the last minute, with some more salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

An Authentic Tuscan Meal

The other night, we had friends over for an authentic Tuscan dinner. While all of the recipes and wines were from Tuscany, I did not follow the normal protocol for what constitutes a "primo" (first) or "secondo" (second) course. Instead of a secondo, I had two "primi" (plural of "primo"). I was very happy with the results.

The Menu
- Tomato bruschetta
- Carabaccia (Tuscan onion soup)
- Eggplant Custard with Tomato & Basil Sauce (Sformatino di Melanzane con Pomodoro e Basilico)
- Thin Spaghetti with Asparagus & Shrimp (Spaghettini con Asparagi e Gamberi)
- Strawberry Semifreddo (Semifreddo alla Fragola)

2010 Vecchia Cantina Rosso di Montepulciano
2007 Máté  Brunello di Montalcino

Three of the dishes were from the book, "A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany," by Beth Elon. The recipes are from restaurants she has found off the beaten path during her explorations of Tuscany. I highly recommend this book. The recipes I used from her book were the bruschetta, the eggplant custard, and the thin spaghetti. I loved the thin spaghetti dish. I also enjoyed both the bruschetta and eggplant custard, but would probably not make those two again. However, I think there are many people who would love either or both of those dishes.

The onion soup, which I mentioned in an earlier posting, is one of my favorite soups.

The semifreddo recipe was from Frances Mayes book, "The Tuscan Sun Cookbook" via an Internet posting. I loved this dish.

I will provide each of the recipes in separate postings so they will be easier to locate.

The wines were very nice. Vecchia Cantina is a large cooperative located near Montepulciano, Tuscany. They produce a wide variety of Tuscan wines. A tip for a very good every day wine from this winery is their Chianti, which retails for $6.99 at Total Wine.

The Máté winery of Candace and Ferenc Máté, which is just outside Montalcino, Tuscany produces terrific wine. Candace is a wonderful artist, and Ferenc is an excellent author, whose works include books on Tuscany and sailing. Their winery is worth a visit if you're ever in Montalcino (

Friday, October 12, 2012

L'Antica Trattoria, Sorrento - Delicious Meal in a Pleasant Setting

Our first meal in Sorrento last July, dinner at L'Antica Trattoria (, was a delightful way to wind down after a long day of driving from Venice. L'Antica Trattoria has been operated by Aldo D'Oria since 1986 and has been in his extended family since 1930. It has an excellent menu and wonderful ambience. The temperature was very comfortable for sitting outside in the evening, despite the earlier heat during the day.

We sat outside on a terrace and underneath a vine-covered pergola. There are also tables under awnings in front of the restaurant and nice rooms inside. The restaurant's name is on a beautiful tile sign in the front.

Entrance to L'Antica Trattoria

We started with an amuse-bouche, which I believe was a bread crumb coated cheese ball with a tomato sauce.

Then we shared a very nice caprese salad (appropriate for being just a couple of miles from Capri.)

Great tomatoes & fresh mozzarella in this Caprese salad

One of us had ravioli with Sorrento caciotta cheese, marjoram, basil, and tomato sauce (Ravioli di Caciotta Fresca e Maggiorana, con Vellutata di Filetto di Pomodoro e Basilico) for 16.

Another had "Mediterranean Concerto" fresh, triangle egg-pasta with delicate Sorrento cheese, zucchini, zucchini flowers, basil pesto, and marjoram. (Triangoli "Concerto Mediterraneo" di Pasta Fresca all'Uovo ai Formaggi Delicati di Sorrento con Maggiorana, Zucchine, Fiore di Zucchine, e Pesto di Basilico) for 16.

Mediterranean Concerto

A third had Antica Trattoria angel hair tagliolini pasta, with prawns, and cream of lemon and spinach sauce with lampfish caviar (Tagliolini de l'Antica Trattoria al Limone con Gamberi Rossi a uova di Lamba Nere, su Vellutata di Spinaci) for 18. She also had the Sorrento Lemon Delight (Delizia di Sorrento al Limone) for dessert.

I had the 38 Menu Sinfonia (Symphony Menu) with four dishes:

1. Zucchini flowers fried in a delicate batter with fuscella ricotta (a cows-milk ricotta produced in Campania), cubes of prosciutto, with sweet Tropea onions (from Calabria) in a sweet and sour sauce. (Fiore di Zucchine con Ricotta di Fuscella e Brunoise di Prosciutto in Pastella Delicata, Salsa all' Agrodolce e Petalli di Cipolle di Tropea)

2. The "Mediterranean Concerto" triangle pasta.

3. Pork medallions with mustard, and herbs, with Savoy cabbage and green onions, fresh Annurca apples (a type of small apple from Campania) in a cream sauce, dried dates, and cranberry sauce (Medaglione di Filetto di Maiale alla Senape, alle Erbe, con Verza al Cipolotto, Fresco Cremoso di Mele Annurche, Datteri Secchi, e Salsa al Mirtillo)

4. Sorrento Lemon Delight (Delizia di Sorrento al Limone)
Sorrento Lemon Delight

We all shared a plate of mixed, home-made cookies.

Home-made Cookies

The red wine I chose was a 2010 Dedicato a Marianna Sciascinoso-Aglianico for 28. It was very nice. Sciascinoso and Aglianico are both red wine grapes from Campania. Aglianico is much more widely cultivated. Aglianico wines are available in the U.S., but I have never seen Sciascinoso wines here.

There were many other dishes on the menu that I would love to have tried.

Our waiter was very nice, and provided excellent service.

The restaurant is located at 33 Via Padre Reginaldo Giuliani, in the heart of Sorrento's historic center. It was just a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Ca' Amadi - Staying at Marco Polo's Place in Venice, Italy

During our trip to Italy in last July, we spent several busy and interesting days in Venice. Our base of operations was a very comfortable, large, air-conditioned room at Ca' Amadi (, a bed and breakfast that was part of a palace that was Marco Polo's residence in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries. Our room overlooked a picturesque canal called the Rio Fontego dei Tedeschi. This B&B clearly deserves the many wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor ( I highly recommend it.

Looking at Ca' Amadi from a Nearby Bridge

View from Our Room

Ca' Amadi is located an easy 5-10 minute walk from the Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal. Of course, we had to make this walk with our luggage when we came from the vaporetto (water  bus) stop near the Rialto Bridge.

The staff of Ca' Amadi - the manager Valentina, Nicolo and Alberto at the front desk, and the breakfast cook were all very nice. Alberto was extremely helpful in answering questions about various activities.

One of Our Two Sets of Beds

The two large beds in our room for four were comfortable and the room was nicely outfitted. One of the large beds was two smaller ones pushed together.

The breakfast had a nice variety of fruits, juices, yogurts, cereal, cold cuts, coffees, breads and pastries, etc. The cook would make delicious bacon and eggs to order. The one complaint I had about the breads and pastries is that they were commercial and uninteresting, in contrast to nice bakery/homemade pastries I have had at similar B&Bs elsewhere in Italy.

Another complaint is that the WiFi signal in our room was often very weak and unusable. However, I could go out into the reception area and receive a strong signal there.

The price of our Family Room for Four with Canal View was 265.00 ($334 at the exchange rate then) for the first night, a Saturday night. The next two nights were 236.55 ($298) per night. The room tax was only 5 per night in contrast to a typical American hotel tax that would have been around 15%, This was also the height of the summer tourist season.

Rio Fontego dei Tedeschi, is an interesting name. It means, "Canal of the Warehouse of the Germans." It refers to a large building that is located at the intersection of that canal and the Grand Canal. The building was the HQ of German merchants in an earlier day. In the Venetian language, "Rio" is the word used to refer to canals other than the very large canals like the Grand Canal. (Many visitors do not realize that the Venetians have their own language (not dialect), that they speak in addition to standard Italian.)

One interesting experience we had was that the route of the gondola ride we took passed right under our hotel room. That offered us a very different perspective.

Several times, when sitting in our room with the windows open, we could hear passing gondoliers pointing to Ca' Amadi and mentioning it had been Marco Polo's home.

Anyone who is staying at Ca' Amadi and is interested in a close place to have delicious gelato should try L'Alta Gelateria on nearby Salizada Fontego dei Tedeschi. I loved the peach gelato.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Florentine-Style Spring Peas, an Easy Tuscan Side Dish

In looking for a nice side dish for an Italian meal I prepared last night, I found one that meets two important criteria - tasty & easy. It's a Tuscan dish called Florentine-Style Spring Peas - Piselli alla Fiorentina. The recipe calls for either ham or pancetta. I used pancetta, which was fine. However, I think that I'll try prosciutto next time, and compare the results.

Below is the exact description of this dish as described at the following URL:

Serves 6

One of the most often served vegetable dishes in Florence. The springtime fresh pea season is short in Tuscany, but since this is such a favourite, we've gone global, using the best frozen peas we can find. Whirl up any leftovers with a touch of broth, milk or water for a wonderfully sweet pea soup.

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 oz. diced ham or pancetta (un-smoked, Italian bacon)
  • 1 ½ pounds frozen petite peas
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, gently cook olive oil, garlic and ham or bacon for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.
  2. Add the frozen peas, water, salt and pepper and cook covered for approximately 15 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper, stir in parsley and serve.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Carabaccia - Delicious Florentine Ancestor of French Onion Soup

Last July, in Florence Italy, I enjoyed Carabaccia, a terrific, traditional Florentine onion soup. Surprisingly, I had never heard of this soup, despite two previous trips to Tuscany and research I had conducted about Tuscan cuisine. I decided to try making this soup when I returned to the U.S. Last night, I tried this easy recipe, and loved the results.

The word "carabaccia" is the name of a kind of barge that was used to transport salt and sand from one point of the Arno River in Florence to another.

Some say that this soup is the ancestor of French onion soup. Foodies who know Italian and French food are aware of the view that some of the origins of French haute cuisine date to the 16th Century, when Catherine de' Medici moved to France when she was wed to King Henry II of France. When Catherine moved to France, she was accompanied by a retinue that included Florentine chefs. In addition to introducing advanced cooking techniques, they also introduced the fork to France.

Whatever the history of this soup, the bottom line is that the taste is wonderful.

The recipe for the version of the soup I had at Trattoria del Pennello is on the restaurant's web site -

However, I decided to make a slightly different version that I found on the following web site:

I also modified the latter recipe by adding more celery and carrots.

While the recipe says it serves four, I think it would easily serve 6.

- 2 lbs onions, finely sliced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 4 slices of Tuscan-style crusty bread (one for each bowl)
- 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 42 ounces of vegetable broth
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pecorino cheese for garnish

- Sauté the onions, celery, and carrots in the olive oil.
- At the same time, bring the vegetable broth to a boil.
- When the onions are soft, add the boiling vegetable broth and cook for about 40 minutes on low heat.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Toast the bread and place a slice in each bowl.
- Pour the soup onto the bread and garnish with pecorino cheese. (I put the grated cheese on the toast before pouring the soup.)
- Serve hot.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tasty & Easy Moroccan Cucumber & Olive Salad

As an accompaniment to an apricot chicken and couscous main dish I made last night, I made the salad described below. It was very easy and very tasty. Since there were only three of us, I just used one cucumber. Since I did not have za'tar, which I love, I used and 1/8th of a teaspoon of marjoram and an 1/8th of oregano.

I found the recipe and commentary below at the following web site:

Adapted from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, this salad is delicious without the olives, and more delicious with them. Seedless cucumbers are a must. Serves 6-8 as part of a tagine menu.
2 English cucumbers, sliced thin
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt + extra
1/4 tsp za’atar (sumac), or marjoram, thyme or oregano, or a mixture of two or three
Handful of cured black olives, rinsed and cut in half (optional)
Lightly salt the cucumbers and let them sit in a colander set over a bowl, for 15-20 minutes. Rinse and dry, and place in a mixing bowl with remaining ingredients except olives. Mix well. Chill until ready to serve. Add olives just before serving.

Delicious Apricot Chicken & Couscous

Last night, we really enjoyed a modified version of an Apricot Chicken recipe that I found at That version calls for fresh apricots, which I did not have. It does explain how to modify the recipe to use dried apricots. The instructions below are for the modified version, but I also added fresh ginger, garlic, coriander, and carrots. Although the recipe called for two teaspoons of tabasco sauce. I just used one. Next time, I'll use two.

I served it over Moroccan-style couscous instead of rice. However, rice would work just fine. The couscous I used was Marrakesh Express plain couscous from Publix. It was delicious and very easy to make.

I found a nice Moroccan salad to accompany it. I will describe the salad in a separate posting.

  • 12 dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • half cup of apricot jam
  • 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter (can sub olive oil)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce (you can add more if you like)
  • Black pepper

My ingredient additions
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 inch of finely chopped ginger
- 1/8 tsp coriander
- 1/2 pound sliced carrots
- couscous
1 In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, place chicken pieces in the pan, without crowding the pan, and brown them on each side. As the chicken cooks, sprinkle salt over it. Once the chicken is browned, remove the pieces from the pan to a bowl and set aside.
2 Add the remaining oil to the pan, add the onions, garlic, and ginger to the pan, and sauté the onion until it begins to brown. As the onion cooks and releases moisture, use a flat edged spatula or wooden spoon to scrape off the browned bits from the chicken (called fond) from the bottom of the pan.
3 Once the onions have browned a bit, add the chicken stock, dried apricots, and apricot jam. Lower the heat to medium.
4 Add the cinnamon, rosemary, coriander, and Tabasco, and taste. You may need to add some salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and gently simmer for 10-20 minutes.
5 In a medium size sauce pan, bring water to boil. Place carrots in water and let simmer for 10 minutes or until carrots are tender. Just before starting step 6, drain water from carrots.
6 When you are ready to serve, put the chicken and carrots into the pan and simmer gently for 5 minutes.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Osteria da Alberto - Wonderful Dining in Venice, Italy

The best meal by far that we had in Venice last July was at Osteria da Alberto ( The food was delicious, the menu included Venetian specialties, the atmosphere was warm, and the staff was very nice. It was decorated with lots of antiques.

While it is a bit off the beaten path, on Calle Giacinto Gallina at Cannaregio 5401, I noticed that it has 112 Trip Advisor reviews, of which 49 are in Italian, so it seems clear that a lot of people seek it out.

Before leaving our hotel to walk to the restaurant, I phoned (041-5238153) to make reservations. That was fortunate. When we entered the osteria, I saw that it was almost completely full.

Just inside the front door was a counter which displayed lots of good-looking food. We were quickly welcomed by Manuda, our waitress, who took us to a table near the rear. 

Two of us  had Tagliolini al Pesto for 9 each.

One of us had a green salad (Insalata Verde) for 3.80 and Gorgonzola Gnocchi with four cheeses (Gnocchi Gorgonzola ai Quattro Formaggi) for 9.

As usual, I went for local dishes. I started with Sarde in Saòr, the same sweet and sour sardine dish I'd had the previous evening, for 9. It was wonderful.

I noticed that there were two baccalà dishes on the menu. In most of Italy, baccalà means salted cod. However, in the Veneto region of Italy, where Venice is located, baccalà refers to stockfish (stoccafisso) - cod or other whitefish, which has been air dried. I had never had it before, and wanted to taste it.

One of the baccalà dishes was Baccalà alla Vicentina (Vicenza-style Baccalà). Vicenza is the name of a city and a province just west of Venice. The other dish was Baccalà Mantecato. I did not know where that was from. I asked the waitress, and she told me it was from Venice. When I told her I was not sure what to order, she told me that they could prepare a plate with half of one and half of the other. I decided to do that. I'm glad I did. Both were terrific. The cost was €14.

It turns out that Baccalà Mantecato is a signature Venetian dish. Like so many other recipes, this one has many variations. Among the ingredients are stockfish, cream or milk, olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley, salt, and pepper.

The ingredients in Baccalà Vicentina are stockfish, onion, milk, anchovies, parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, flour, and parsley.

Two of us shared a bottle of 2009 Fabiano Valpolicello Ripasso for €30. This is a very nice type of red wine that is produced on the east side of Lake Garda, which is a short distance west of Venice.

For dessert, two of us had Tiramisu. one had Semifreddo Pistacchio, and I had Venetian cookies (Biscotti Veneziani). Semifreddo is a class of semi-frozen desserts like ice cream cakes. This one had three layers - chocolate, pistachio, and vanilla.

Semifreddo Pistacchio

Biscotti Veneziani

One of us had a cafe Americano for €1.80, and two of us had espresso for the same price.

We shared a large bottle of water for €3, and were charged a cover charge of €1.80 each.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

An Italian Alternative to Google Street View - Great for Venice, Italy

I use the Street View function in Google Maps a great deal to help me identify photos I've taken on trips, as well as to sort out other details of those trips. I was disappointed recently when I discovered that Google Maps does not have street view or canal view capabilities for Venice, Italy. Happily, I stumbled upon an Italian web site that has those capabilities for Venice, as well as for locations throughout Italy. The URL for Venice is:

The main URL for this service is, which starts at Rome.

I also find street views very help for planning navigation through complex intersections or on complicated routes in foreign cities. A good example is the figure-eight roundabout near the Siena Ovest exit below the hilltop town of Siena, Italy.

Forget Ristorante Vittoria di Tonello Vania in Venice, Italy

While I had two delicious dishes at Ristorante Bar Vittoria di Tonello Vania in Venice, Italy, the rest of our party had mediocre food and the service was abominably and inexcusably slow.

The restaurant is beautifully situated on the waterfront on Riva degli Schiavoni, not far east of Piazza San Marco. It has nice outdoor tables overlooking the Riva and the water. However, the service there was the slowest during our 16 days in Italy. I had to call the waiter several times to ask him the status of two of our orders. He was completely unapologetic, saying it was not his fault.

The two dishes I had were superb, but the other meals were mediocre at best despite the fact that they were all simple dishes.

Additionally, the mineral water was very expensive - €6 for a large bottle.

I had two dishes:
1. Sarde in Saòr (sweet and sour sardines) for 9. This is a Venetian specialty that has sardines, raisins, pine nuts, white wine, white wine vinegar, olive oil, coriander, cloves, onions, salt and pepper. I loved it.
2. Grilled branzino fish, a popular northern Mediterranean fish for  €19.50. This was delicious.

The others in our party had the following dishes, which were mediocre:
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara for €11
- Gnocchi with four cheeses (Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi) for €11
- a cheeseburger for €7

The wine I had was nice - a half bottle of 2011 Cesari Valpolicella Classico for €14. Valpolicella is produced on the eastern side of Lake Garda, which is just east of Venice.

We were each charged a €2.50 cover charge.