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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Council's in Bradenton - Great Burgers from a Bygone Era

If you want to have a great burger and step back in time, try Council's Bradenton Recreation. I love it. It has been located on 12th St. West in Bradenton since 1954, and has operated in Bradenton since 1926. It has an old wooden bar where you sit to eat your burger or chili or whatever. It also has a bunch of pool tables. The linoleum is pretty much worn off the floor. When you are served your burger, it's not served on a plate, but on paper napkins; and that burger is dripping with juice. The cook told me that the stove he uses to prepare the burgers is 60 years old.

Council's has a fairly limited menu - hamburgers, double hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and chili. I've had the hamburgers a number of times and the chili once. I love 'em both. They also have draft and bottled beer.

Typical of the prices are hamburgers for $4.25 and double hamburgers for $5.50. Draft beers are $1.75 and bottled beers are $2.50.

Council's is located right across from the courthouse in downtown Bradenton, so there are lots of clients associated with the courthouse - lawyers, bail bondsmen, etc. I've had lunch there while on jury duty.

 Council's is located at 536 12th St. West in Bradenton.

Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva - Tourist Trap; Terrific Location

Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva in Venice, Italy has a great location on the Grand Canal, a few feet from the Rialto Bridge. While the food was passable - toward the low end of Italian food, the location was terrific. The food was also on the expensive side. We sat at an outdoor table under awning.

Three of us had Piazza Diavola, with tomato, mozzarella, and spicy salami for 10 each. (The following day, we had a better version of the same pizza at another location for €7.50 each.)

I had Pizza Sottobosco with tomato, mozzarella, brie, and mushrooms for €10.50.

We had small bottles of mineral water for €4.50 each. This was the most we paid anywhere in Italy in over 2 weeks of travel.

I had two glasses of Masi Frescaripa Bardolino Classico for €6 per glass. This decent wine is prouced near the town of Bardolino on the eastern side of Lake Garda, a short distance west of Venice.

The bottom line is that I would probably try one of the other waterfront restaurants in the same area.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trattoria del Pennello - Tasty Tuscan Comfort Food

Another restaurant we enjoyed in Italy in July was Trattoria Casa di Dante "del Pennello," also known as Ristorante il Pennello ( In particular, I really enjoyed a couple of dishes unique to Tuscany. My choice of this restaurant was based on Trip Advisor reviews.

Trattoria del Pennello

Our grandson and granddaughter both had ravioli with ricotta, spinach, butter, and sage for 9 each.

Our daughter had spaghetti alla carbonara for 7.

Those were dishes that are available in many parts of Italy. However, I had two terrific Tuscan dishes.

First I had La Carabaccia Soup. It was wonderful. The ingredients include onions, carrots, celery, vegetable broth, extra virgin olive oil, toasted bread, parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper. (Toasted bread is used in many Tuscan soup recipes as a way to use day-old bread. It works great.) This dish cost 6. I intend to try making it.

As a second course, I had a Tuscan version of pork and beans - Salsicce e Fagioli all'Uccelletto - sausage and cannellini beans "little bird style." Several Internet sources indicate that "little bird style" may refer to the fact that the seasonings used are similar to those used in dishes using small birds. In Italy, Tuscans are sometimes referred to as "Mangiafagioli" (Bean eaters.) This dish was very tasty and cost 12. I also want to try cooking this dish.

Inside Trattoria del Pennello

For dessert, we all had Tuscan desserts. Three had tiamisu and I had Zuppa Inglese, which is similar to English trifle. Each dessert cost €5.

The wine I chose was a 2009 Brolio Chianti Classico from Barone Ricasoli for €24. It was very nice. The Ricasoli winery is where the modern recipe for Chianti wine was created in the 19th Century by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the "Iron Baron" who was the second Prime Minister of a reunited Italy. The castle where the winery is located has been owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141 AD. It is the oldest winery in Italy, and the second oldest in the world.

My daughter and I were each given a free glass of limoncello.

Unlike many other local restaurants, there was no cover charge.

Our total bill for four was €90.

The restaurant is located at Via Dante Aleghieri 4, about 3 blocks north of Piazza della Signoria.

Friday, September 7, 2012

La Ghiotta Lupa - Tasty Pizza in Pisa

On our outing from Florence to Pisa to visit the Leaning Tower last July, we found a place near Pisa's main train station, Pisa Centrale, to have an inexpensive but tasty lunch. It was La Lupa Ghiotta (, which means something like "The Ravenous Female Wolf" or "The Greedy Female Wolf." It is a Tavola Calda (Hot Table), a type of Italian restaurant that specializes in casual and cafeteria-style food. La Ghiotta Lupa had a large selection of pizzas cooked on wood-fired ovens, as well as various pastas and sandwiches.

Two of us had Pizza Margherita - with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil for  4 ($5.08). One had Pizza alla Diavola (Devil-Style Pizza) - tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, mascarpone cheese, and olive oil for  4.50 ($5.67). I had Pizza Sasa - with tomato, mozzarella di bufala, Tuscan salami, sausage, and extra virgin olive oil for 7.50 ($9.45).

La Lupa Ghiotta is located at Viale Francesco Bonaini 113 at the intersection of Via Giacomo Puccini,  about two blocks from the train station.   

La Lupa Ghiotta

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Fantastic Avocado, Tomato, & Mango Salsa

I discovered a terrific salsa which I served to friends the other night. When I found it at (, I was impressed by the nearly 700 superb reviews. It clearly deserves those plaudits.

The recipe is easy to make, but does require a  bit of slicing and dicing. The recipe is supposed to serve 6. I doubled it because there were 10 of us. It quickly disappeared even though I had very little of it because I was busy cooking. We served it with tortilla chips.

Below is the recipe for 6


- 1 mango - peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1 avocado - peeled, pitted, and diced
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 3 tablespoons olive oil

- In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoed, jalapeño, cilantro, and garlic. Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil. To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.