Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Curried Waldorf Salad - Nice & Easy

This New York Times recipe is delicious, as well as very easy and fairly fast to prepare. I made a couple of changes based on what I had available at home. (

(The impetus for me to search for a recipe like this and the braised celery I made a day earlier, was my purchase of a Publix Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) sale of two bunches of celery, when I only needed three stalks for a sausage stuffing I'm going to make for Thanksgiving.)

a. For the Dressing
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used bottled)
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup plain low-fat-yogurt (I used regular sour cream)
- 3/4 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- salt to taste

b. For the Salad
- 2 Fuji apples (I used Honeycrisp)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (bottled)
- 1/3 cup lightly toasted walnut halves
- 1 cup thinly-sliced celery, from the heart of the celery
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup celery leaves or flat-leaf parsley (or 2 tablespoons each), coarsely chopped

1. Mix together the lemon juice, yogurt, mayonnaise, curry powder, cumin, and salt. Set aside.
2. Cut the apples into 12 wedges. Cut away the core of each wedge and slice into thin crosswise slices. Toss in a large bowl with 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Add the remaining ingredients and toss together.
3. Shortly before serving, toss the salad with the dressing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Delicious & Easy Celery Side Dish

I never thought I'd love a celery side dish, but I think this one is really delicious; and it's very easy to make. It was a nice accompaniment to a ravioli dish I served. This one is an Alton Brown recipe, courtesy of Food ( It is a 5-star recipe with 31 reviews.

It takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and serves four. Since there were only two of us, I only used 3 stalks of celery rather than the 8 called for below. (I wish I had used 4 or 5 stalks because it was so tasty.) That's the only change I made.


8 stalks of celery, rinsed and trimmed, leaves chopped and reserved
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality beef stock or broth


Peel any of the fibrous outer stalks of celery with a vegetable peeler and slice into 1-inch pieces on the bias.

Heat the butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Once melted, add the celery, salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes until just beginning to soften slightly.

Add the beef broth and stir to combine. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the celery is tender but not mushy - approximately 5 minutes.

Uncover and allow the celery to continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the liquid has been reduced to a glaze.

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the reserved leaves.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sweet Spiced Roast Carrots

It seems like there is no end to the number of easy, tasty carrot dishes. This one, from an Australian web site, is super simple to prepare, and the results are very nice. (

While the recipe calls for about 1 & 3/4 pounds of carrots, I only used half a pound for the two of us. I did not change any of the sauce ingredients. I did put aluminum foil on the roasting pan to make cleanup easier.


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 & 3/4 pounds (800 grams) carrots
olive oil cooking spray

1. Heat oven to 430 degrees

2. Place oil, honey, cumin, coriander, and salt and pepper into a large bowl. Mix well to combine. Add carrots. Toss well to coat in spice mixture.

3. Spray a roasting pan with oil. Place roasting pan into oven for 3 minutes to heat.

4. Add carrots and spice mixture to roasting pan. Roast, turning occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.

String Beans with Garlic - Very Easy & Nice with Salmon

This easy side was a very nice accompaniment to a grilled salmon dish I made this evening. The beans end up nice and crisp. It seems like the dish could easily be changed by adding any of a variety of spices. The recipe is an Ina Garten recipe from the Food Network (


1 & 1/2 pounds French string beans with both ends removed
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper


Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 & 1/2 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a large bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When they are cool, drain and set aside.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a very large sauté pan over medium heat and cook the garlic for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing occasionally until lightly browned. Add the string beans, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss together. Reheat the string beans and serve.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Brio Tuscan Grille - Delicious Meal, Nice Atmosphere, Outstanding Service; A Touch of Tuscan Influence

Several days ago, my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a dinner at Brio Tuscan Grille ( in Sarasota's new University Town Center Mall. It was an excellent way to celebrate.

The food was delicious, the atmosphere was pleasant, and the service was excellent. Another nice feature was that there was no corkage fee for the wine we brought with us.

Brio is a chain of 55 restaurants that has a presence in 22 states. It is part of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group.

I think it's important to distinguish between our excellent dining experience and authentic Tuscan cuisine. I'll describe our dining experience first, and then discuss Tuscan cuisine.

When I called to make reservations, they asked if we were celebrating a special experience. I mentioned our anniversary. When we arrived at the restaurant and throughout our meal, various employees congratulated us on our experience. 

Prior to going to the restaurant, I sent an email to BBRG asking if there was a corkage fee. Within minutes, I received a response that there was no corkage fee.

I decided I'd like to bring a wine because when I checked the Brio wine list, I did not see a Tuscan wine-winery combination that interested me for an anniversary celebration, so I took a 2006 Terre di Talamo Tempo Riserva. It was very nice. (I would like to have taken a Poggio Antico Brunello, but it would not have had time to open properly.)

We started our meal with a special seasonal bruschetta that had a topping of onion jam; applewood-smoked bacon; a sauce of heavy cream, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese; and a topping of parsley. It was terrific. (Six pieces for $10.95.)

For a main dish, my wife chose the grilled 8 oz. Filetto di Manzo Toscano (Filet of Tuscan Beef - $28.95). It was tender and cooked to perfection. Her side dishes (and mine) were mashed potatoes and a wonderful mix of roasted vegetables).

My main dish was the 14 oz. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine-style Steak - $27.95.) It was also cooked just the way I requested and tasted wonderful. In Tuscany, this traditional steak is normally a 2 lb monster, and the taste is incredible, especially when the source of the beef is the huge Val di Chiana cattle.

For dessert, my wife had key lime pie ($2.99). I had a trio of desserts - creme brulée, caramel mascarpone cheesecake, and butterscotch pecan bread pudding ($9.95). The desserts were all wonderful.

We also had very flavorful espressos.

Our server, Alicia, was terrific in every respect - professional, quick to notice and take care of our every need, and interested in learning about Tuscan food. We could also see that she was watching her other tables to ensure that all was well there.

The restaurant was a bit noisy, but that could be a due to a deliberate effort to create a lively atmosphere.

While Tuscan is in the restaurant's name, the chain does not claim to focus on genuine Tuscan cuisine, but to use authentic Italian cooking methods to serve food "similar to what one would fine in an authentic restaurant in Tuscany."

In fact, when I looked through the menu, I saw very little that appeared to be authentic Tuscan cuisine. Instead, I saw many dishes that were either from other parts of Italy or were Italian-American dishes. 

As an article on Tuscan cuisine in the Examiner ( states, "Tuscan is one of the most widely abused adjectives when it comes to describing decor and food, at least Italian food."

For example, Brio's menu offers 11 types of pasta. However, the Tuscans have not been big pasta eaters. Their main traditional pastas are Pici (also called Pinci), and Pappardelle. They also enjoy, Tortelli, which are like Ravioli. (Beans have been a more important part of Tuscan cuisine, than pasta and other Italians have called the Tuscans "mangiafagioli" (bean-eaters).)

There are a number of traditional Tuscan dishes that Brio could offer that would undoubtedly be popular. They are delicious, easy to make, and not usually found at U.S. Italian restaurants. One good example is Carabaccia - a Florentine onion soup that some describe as a predecessor to French onion soup.

(I know a little bit about Tuscan cuisine, with incredible dining  experiences throughout Tuscany - from major locations like Florence, Siena, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Cortina, San Gimignano, Volterra, Pienza, Greve, and Porto Santo Stefano, to small villages like San Giovanni d'Asso and at restaurants in the countryside like Badia a Passignano and il Risotoro di Lamole. At those restaurants, I have generally focused on sampling authentic and traditional Tuscan dishes. I also cook some traditional Tuscan dishes.)

The wine list is decent, including six Tuscan reds and a Tuscan white, in addition to other Italian and non-Italian wines. It could be improved by including a couple of Tuscan reds that have interesting stories and great taste - such as Ricasoli and Antinori wines. (Ricasoli is the oldest winemaker in Italy and the second oldest in the world, with a history that dates to 1141 a.d. Baron Bettino Ricasoli developed the modern formulation for Chianti wine. He was the second Prime Minister of a reunited Italy in the 19th Century.) 

Antinori is another iconic winemaker, with a history dating back over six centuries. The current head of the family, Marquis Piero Antinori, has been a major leader in the major advances in Italian wine quality in the last several decades. His firm produces a super range of wines, including one of our favorite Chianti Classicos - Peppoli. (Piero and other Antinoris have visited Sarasota.)

The bottom line is that we will probably return to Brio, but I'd return much more often if they would offer a variety of dishes that are uniquely Tuscan.