Monday, January 26, 2015

Lamb, Mushroom, and Onion Stew

This delicious and easy lamb stew recipe is a modification of a recipe I found in the Sahtein Levantine cookbook, which I mentioned in an earlier posting. The next time, I will try modifying it even more by adding raisins. The modifications I made were to add garlic and to replace the water with wine. (I suppose I shouldn't say, "changing the water to wine.")

It is served over cooked rice.

This version serves two, but you can easily scale it up. 


- 2 tbsp butter or margarine. (You could also do olive  oil.)
- 8 oz fresh mushrooms, washed and cut if too large
- 1/2 to 1 lb lamb cubed (I prefer 1 lb)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and allspice (or adjust to your taste)
- 3/4 cup of water or red wine (I used a Barbera d'Alba, which worked fine.)


Brown meat & onions in a pan over medium heat until light brown - about 5 minutes.
- Add mushrooms and simmer for 6 minutes. (Taste a piece of lamb after 6 minutes to be sure it is tender and cooked through.)
- Add lemon juice.
- Serve over rice.

Doesn't get much easier than that.

Balsamic Chicken Breasts with Peppers & Onions

This easy and delicious chicken breast recipe is from ( It is easily scale-able. 

I deviated from the recipe by using dried basil instead of fresh. I'm sure it would have been better with the fresh.

- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- salt & pepper
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 cups thinly slice bell peppers (use mix of colors. Some stores like Publix sell bags of mixed colored bell peppers.)
- 1 medium onion sliced thin
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used walnut strawberry balsamic.)


Season chicken with salt & pepper.

In a large skillet, sauté chicken breast in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat, turning once for a total of about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. (If the chicken breasts are thin, you may want to do 3  or 3&1/2 minutes per side.)

Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and cook peppers and onions, stirring often until just softened.

Add garlic and stir for about 1 minute.

Stir in basil and vinegar, and return chicken  and juices to the skillet.

Reduce heat to low, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 3 more minutes.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasonings.

Sarasota Forks & Corks University Wine Tasting

One weekend toward the end of January, Sarasota hosts a series of terrific culinary events called, "Forks & Corks." The main event is a grand food and wine tasting on Sunday in the grand courtyard of the Ringling Art Museum in Sarasota. Other events include wine tasting dinners on Friday and Saturday, and "Forks & Corks University" wine tasting events on Saturday at Michael's on East Restaurant and Michael's Wine Cellar. The events are run by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, an association of over 50 local, independent restaurateurs. Both the Forks & Corks events and the Manatee-Sarasota Originals association are the inspirations of iconic restaurateur and wine devotee, Michael Klauber.

The Sunday grand food and wine tasting tickets are limited to about 2,000, and sell out within minutes of the start of sales 2 months earlier. Many of the other functions also sell out.

I have had the pleasure of attending the grand tasting twice, and the university wine tastings on three occasions. There are two types of tastings:
1. Morning only, including lunch.
2. Morning and afternoon, including lunch.

The attendees of both types have lunch together in Michael's on East. The lunches themselves are special. Each course is prepared by a chef from a different Originals restaurant and paired with a nice wine.

This year, I attended the full-day session - a Christmas gift from our son and daughter.

The morning session was a tasting of 10 Pinot Noirs, two each from five different wineries - one in Oregon and four in California. The theme of the afternoon session was red wines from various regions of Italy, again involving 10 wines from five wineries. Each wine was presented by a representative from the winery or a distributor of that winery's wines.

The Morning Tasting
The wineries, locations, representatives, and wines in the morning tasting were:
1. Willamette Valley Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Mary Joli, presenting:
a. 2012 Estate Pinot Noir
b. 2008 Estate Pinot Noir
2. Hook & Ladder Winery, Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, Michael Deloach, presenting:
a. 2013 Estate Pinot Noir
b. 2009 Estate Pinot Noir
3.Saintsbury, Los Carneros, Napa Valley, Chris Kajani, presenting:
a. 2011 Stanly Ranch
b. 2010 Stanly Ranch
4. Talbott Vineyards, California Central Coast, Bob Seager, presenting:
a. 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve "Sarah Case," Sleepy Hollow Estate
b. 2012 "Pinot Noir Reserve "RFT," Diamond T Estate
5. Presqu'ile Winery, Santa Barbara County, Matt Murphy, presenting:
a. 2012 Presqu'ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
b. 2012 Steiner Creek Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County

The first three tastings, which had different vintages from the same vineyards, demonstrated how much of a difference changes in weather can make from one year to another.

Since these pinots were from many different geographic areas with very different soils and climates, one could appreciate how very different the results can be when using the same general type of grapes, albeit with different clones.

The presenters provided lots of interesting information. One fascinating discussion involved explanations of how different winemakers choose which mix of grapes to use in a given wine.

Also, I knew that the name Pinot Noir was French and that "Noir" meant, "black," but I did not realize that "Pinot" derives from the fact that the Pinot Noir grapes cluster tightly in a shape like a pine cone.

My favorite Pinot was the 2012 Talbott Reserve "RFT." The other three that I liked were the:
- 2009 Hook & Ladder
- 2012 Hook & Ladder
- 2012 Willamette Valley

Afternoon Wine Session
The five wineries represented at this tasting were from all over Italy - the Piedmont in the northwest, the Veneto in the northeast, two areas of Tuscany, and one wine company that uses grapes from five regions in the south - Abruzzo, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, and Sicily. I had visited one of these wineries, and had passed within 2 miles of three others on various travels in Italy. I had never heard of one of the wineries or the wine company.

The wineries, locations, representatives, and wines in this tasting were:
1. Farnese Vini, various locations in the south, Vito Candela
Unlike the others in the afternoon session, Farnese is not a winery, but a group of seven companies. The wines presented were:
a. 2011 Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni 13. This wine is produced from five grapes (33% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 30% Primitivo, 25% Sangiovese, 7% Negroamaro, & 5% Malvasia Nera). "Cinque Autoctoni" means, "Five Native Grapes" (as opposed to foreign grapes like Merlot). It had no appellation name. I was surprised at how good it was.
b. 2009 Piano del Cerro Aglianico del Vulture. This wine is produced from Aglianico grapes grown in the volcanic soils near the extinct volcano Vulture in the Basilicata Region. It was good.
2. Castello di Querceto (Oak Castle), just west of Greve in Tuscany, Marco Fizaletti:
a. 2009 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva
b. 2007 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva
Normally I love Chianti Classico & Chianti Classico Riserva, but I was surprised that these did not impress me. I have had their Chianti Classicos before. Sometimes I enjoyed them, and sometimes not.
3. Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco, Alberto di Gresy. Barbaresco is in the Langhe wine area of the Piedmont Region. The Langhe produces superb reds, and has outstanding cuisine. I love the area and recommend visiting it. I was not familiar with this winery.
a. 2008 Gaiun Martinenga Barbaresco, made from 100% Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is used to create great Italian wines, including one of my favorite types - Barolo. This was a nice Barbaresco, but I've had better.
b. 2007 Camp Gros Martinenga Barbaresco. This one is also 100% Nebbiolo, but is from a different vineyard. My sentiments about this one were the same as its predecessor.
4. Altesino, Montalcino, south of Siena in Tuscany, Guido Orzalesi. The small commune of Montalcino produces my favorite type of Italian wine - Brunello, which is made from a clone of the Sangiovese grape. Montalcino is a spectacular area.
a. 2012 Rosso di Montalcino made from a Sangiovese clone from younger vines. The requirements for the production of the Rosso (red) are much easier than for Brunello.
b. 2009 Brunello. This wine gets very high reviews; e.g., 93 from James Suckling. However, I didn't find it exciting. Since it is young for a Brunello, it may need more time to age. I have a bottle Altesino Brunello of the same vintage at home. I will probably let it age for at least 3 more years, so we'll see then. My favorite Brunellos are from Poggio Antico.
5. Zenato, the Veneto just west of Venice, Vittorio Marianecci. I love this winery and its wines. My wife and I had a great tasting there with friends when we stayed at nearby Lake Garda. One of their wines, Valpolicella Superiore, is one that I've had many times. The wines at this tasting were:
a. 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, which I like even better than the Valpolicella Superiore. The grapes used are 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella, and 10% Sangiovese.
b. 2007 Cressaso Corvina Veronese, which won the 2015 Forks & Corks Best in Show award. This was by far my favorite wine of the whole day. It is made from 100% Corvina grapes. It's the first time I've ever had a wine made entirely of Corvina. It sells for about $70 a bottle. Perhaps Santa will bring me a bottle.

The lunch was terrific:

Hors d'Oeuvres, by Michael's on East
1. Spicy Tuna Cannoli
2. Poached Duck Money Bags
3. Grilled Endive Wrapped in Serrano Ham
Paired with a nice NV Grandial Blanc de Blancs Brut sparkling wine from Charentes, France

First Course, by the Crow's Nest Chef
Shrimp & Grits - Wild Florida shrimp with garlic, peppers, and onions, in a Creole pan sauce over cheesy stone-ground grits with bacon and scallions
Paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc from the Silverado Vineyards, Napa Valley

Second Course, by the Pier 22 chef
Short Rib Cupcake - Tender short ribs served with a potato frosting, mushroom au jus and julienne vegetables
Paired with a nice 2011 Tillerman red blend from Hook and Ladder Winery

Dessert, by Michael's on East
Malva Pudding with Crème Anglaise and Mango Ice Cream - absolutely incredible. I'm getting hungry thinking about it.
Paired with a nice Quady Electra Muscat dessert wine.

One great additional pleasure of Forks & Corks University is meeting people. During the tastings, I sat next to a terrific couple, Cindy & Wayne, whom I'd met last year.

At lunch, I sat with Karen & Mikael Hansen, the very pleasant owners of Copenhagen Imports, another nice couple, and owner of Quady wines.

If you like food and wine, Forks & Corks is well worth your time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Kona Grill at Sarasota's University Town Center Mall - a Delicious Dinner

This evening, my wife and I enjoyed a delicious dinner at Kona Grill (  at Sarasota's new University Town Center Mall. The menu is a very creative Asian-American fusion menu. On the one hand, it has a full sushi menu. On the other hand, there are lots of enticing appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrées. There were so many good-sounding choices that I had a hard time making a selection. 

(The entire menu is on-line. The following web page with the dinner menu shows the range of dishes -

We started with an appetizer of a sushi order of shrimp tempura roll for $8.

My wife's main course was an avocado chicken club sandwich, which included applewood smoked bacon, havarti, and chipotle mayo on ciabatta bread, with a side of taro chips, for $12.75.

My main course was Macadamia Nut Chicken with shoyu cream and pineapple-papaya marmalade. It included a side of house mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables (corn, onions, onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, and tomatoes). The chicken was terrific and the sides were good. I really like the shoyu cream sauce and the marmalade. (Shoyu is the Japanese word for "soy.") I would have preferred that the mashed potatoes be served on the side of the chicken, not underneath. The cost was $19.75.

My wife chose key lime pie for dessert for $7.50. It was good, but she prefers the Publix Key Lime Pie (which we had last night) because it is more tart.

I had spiced apple bread pudding with candied walnuts, vanilla bean ice cream, and caramel sauce for $7.50. It was wonderful, but the serving was huge. I brought half of the bread pudding home.

Our wine was a 2012 Conundrum red blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa for $46. We loved it.

Our server, Sean, was very professional and pleasant. He easily balanced chatting with us and watching his other diners to make sure they were properly attended to.

The manager, Tamela Crouch, was extraordinarily attentive. She stopped by our table a number of times to make sure we were happy.

She told us that all dishes but the ice cream were prepared from scratch on site. She also mentioned that all bottles of wine are 1/2 price on Wednesdays. (We'll have to go on Wednesdays from now on.)

Kona Grill originated in Scottsdale, AZ, and is currently headquartered there. It has 31 stores nationwide, with only two in Florida. The other is in Tampa.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chicken, Zucchini, Garlic Stir Fry Recipe - Used for Leftover Roast Chicken

The other day, I was looking for an easy recipe to use a half a leftover, precooked, Publix lemon pepper roast chicken. I also wanted to include zucchini. I found this delicious recipe on ( It is called a stir fry recipe even though the directions call for it to be cooked in a sauce pan. 

The recipe sounded to me like it had too much garlic, but I followed the directions, and the taste was just right.

I served it over Near East brand Couscous Roast Garlic and Olive Oil, which I purchased at Publix. 


- 1 boneless chicken breast (I used the half a leftover chicken, with breast and thigh), cut into 1/2" pieces
- 8-10 cloves of garlic, slice in half lengthwise. (I used small cloves)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 medium zucchini sliced into 1/4" rounds, and rounds then cut in half
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 cup chicken broth

- Heat oil in small to medium sauce pan (I used medium)
- Salt and pepper chicken to taste, then add put all ingredients in saucepan (Since I was using precooked chicken, I added the chicken later, as described below.)
- Bring to slight boil
- I let the items in the pan cook for 5 minutes, and then added the chicken. I then let all the items cook for an additional 5 minutes. That worked perfectly.
- Remove from heat when chicken is no longer pink, and zucchini is tender, but crisp.

Levantine Lamb & Asparagus Stew

I inherited a Palestinian-American cookbook called, "Sahtein," from my mother. (Sahtein is the Arabic equivalent of "bon appetit.") This cookbook contains Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian recipes. I have the 1979 version, which was published by the Arab Women's Union of Detroit. An unspecified version of this cookbook is available from the web site of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (

I have decided to try some of the easier recipes. The first I tried is a delicious lamb and asparagus stew. I have added a few details and slightly rearranged the instructions to make it easier to follow. It is supposed to serve 4. However, my wife and I managed to finish it all ourselves.

It is served over long-grained rice prepared separately.


- 3 tbsp butter or margarine (I used olive oil.)
- 1 lb fresh asparagus spears, cut into 2" pieces, and with tough bottom portion broken off. Wash and drain.
- 1/2 lb lamb, cubed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 cup water
- juice of one lemon (My wife thought this was too much. I thought it was perfect.)
- salt, pepper, and allspice to taste (I used 1/2 a tbsp of allspice.)


1. Heat butter, margarine, or oil in skillet over medium heat. 

2. Sauté meat and onions until lamb is light brown.

3. Add water, salt, pepper, and allspice. Cook until tender. I believe it took about 5 minutes.

4. Add asparagus and simmer for 15 minutes, or until tender.

5. Add lemon juice and stir. 

6. Serve with or over rice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Some of My Favorite Red Wines for Everyday Enjoyment & Special Occasions

Friends and acquaintances who know my love for wines occasionally ask me for recommendations, so I've decided to list a few. These are my personal preferences based solely on my likes and dislikes.

Since my preferences and experiences primarily involve red wines, my recommendations are for red wines.

I have divided my recommendations into my two major categories - everyday wines and special-occasion wines. The everyday wines range in price from $7 to $14 per 750 ml bottle - with an extra 10-20% off for coupons or case discounts. In my case, special wines range in price from about $20 to $70, with the higher-priced ones going on my birthday or Christmas wish lists.

While I enjoy wines from the U.S. and many other countries, I generally prefer Italian and French wines, primarily Italian wines, because they remind my wife and me of wonderful trips we have made to wine regions of those countries. Additionally, I enjoy cooking authentic Tuscan cuisine, with which I pair Tuscan reds. I've added a few pics from our visits to Italy to show what comes to mind when I sip wines from Tuscany and the Piedmont regions of Italy.

The main exception to my Italian-French fixation is U.S. red zinfandel, which I love and which is primarily produced in Napa and Sonoma, as well as in several other areas of California.

In addition to the wine-producing areas above, I have enjoyed many nice red wines from all over the world, including Oregon, Virginia, and Maryland in the U.S., and Spain, South Africa, Argentina and Chile, Australia, and Greece (non-retsina). The main South American wine I enjoy is Malbec. Many people do not realize that Greece has made significant advances in the quality of its wines. (Not listed in the countries above are those whose whites I've enjoyed; e.g., Germany, Austria, and New Zealand.)

When entertaining foreign friends, I like to serve American wines, especially those with interesting stories; e.g., Grgich Hills or Stags Leap. I like to pair those wines with regional U.S. menus; e.g., New Orleans, or the Low Country of South Carolina.

The Italian wines I most enjoy are from the regions of Tuscany, the Piedmont, the Veneto, and Sicily. I like Umbrian wines as well. However, aside from Falesco, they are not as readily available or reasonably priced. The French wines I most enjoy are from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone, Provence, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Some of the special wines I enjoy are produced by the very same vintners who produce the everyday wines I enjoy.

There are a number of reasons why two wines produced at the same property by the same outstanding vintner can be significantly different in both price and taste. Among those reasons:
1. There may be two (or more) vineyards on the same property. The soils of the two vineyards and the exposure to sun, wind, etc. may be very different. One of those vineyards may not even be suitable for the better grapes. For example, Nebbiolo grapes, which produce incredible Barolos, are much more sensitive to sunlight, altitude, moisture, etc., than the Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which are grown in the same area of the Piedmont. (See:
2. The grape yield limitations per acre may be very different. Often, with the best quality wines, the vintner may trim as much as two-thirds of the grapes from the vines before the grapes begin to mature. That results in a much greater concentration of flavor in the remaining grapes. For example, the maximum grape production allowed per hectare (2.47 acres) for Brunello di Montalcino is 8 tons, and 9 tons for Rosso di Montalcino. Some vintners trim significantly more than is required so they can produce even better wines. The lower the yield, the fewer bottles produced. That requires the vintner to charge more in order to be profitable.
3. Some wines have to be aged for longer than others before they can be sold. The longer the storage requirement, the more expensive this is for the vintner - for storage space, upkeep, etc.
A Brunello Riserva must be aged for 6 years before it can go to market. A non-Riserva Brunello requires 5 years, and a Rosso di Montalcino requires less than a year.

All of the wines listed below are wines that I have enjoyed during the past year. There are some Spanish reds I would have included in the everyday wines, but it has been more than a year since I have tried them.

On my smart phone, I maintain a database of most of the wines I try so that I can repeat ones I enjoy and avoid ones I don't care for. That database currently holds data on nearly 2,300 wines from the past 14 years. It's missing the data for one of those years due to a mistake I made.

I buy most of my wines at Total Wine in Lakewood Ranch and Norman's Liquors on Clark Rd. or State Rd. 70 for reasons of price, selection, and proximity to where I normally travel. However, one wine seller I really like is Michael Klauber who operates Michael's Wine Cellar (, and Michael's on East restaurant. He has a nice selection of wines and is extremely knowledgeable and helpful. He is also the creative genius behind the annual Sarasota Forks and Corks food and wine celebration.

Everyday Reds

The following are some of my favorite everyday reds. The prices are for the Sarasota, FL area before discounts, which can range from 10% to 20%. For example, Total Wine currently has a coupon with a 20% discount on all Old World wines that are under $50 and that do not have a price ending in 7. With the recent decrease in the value of the Euro vs. the Dollar, these wines may become even less expensive:

1. Vecchia Cantina Chianti - $8.49 for 750ml or $12.99 for 1.5l at Total Wine. This winery is a coop located just outside Montepulciano, Tuscany. My wife, niece, and I had a fantastic visit there in 2012. They produce many types of Tuscan wines.
2. Bouchard Aîné & Fils Pinot Noir - $10.99. This winery, headquartered in Beaune, Burgundy, produces a range of very nice wines. This is their least expensive. Within the last year or so, this wine has jumped in price from $8.99. My wife, friends, and I enjoyed a terrific visit to their headquarters.
3. Santa Cristina Tuscan red by Antinori - Total Wine $9.99. Norman's sometimes has it for about $6.97. Antinori is the second oldest wine producer in Italy, and the largest. Moreover, the head of the family, Piero Antinori, is one of the leading visionaries who began the movement that dramatically improved the quality of Italian wines. Antinori produces wines that cost up to $300 per bottle. My wife, friends, and I spent a terrific week at the Antinori Fonte de Medici ( resort in rural Tuscany. This resort is at the vineyards which are the source of the grapes used in Santa Cristina.
4. Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel - $6.97 at Norman's & Total Wine (no discount).
Ravenswood is an iconic Sonoma, CA winery that specializes in Zinfandels, which they produce at many price points. This is their least expensive. I like all the ones I've tried. My wife and I and another couple enjoyed a very welcoming visit to this winery.
5. Falesco Vitiano Rosso - from the Umbria region of Italy. $9.99 at Total Wine. Another nice Falesco wine at Total Wine is the Sangiovese for $13.99.
6. Zenato Valpolicella Superiore - $12.99 at Norman's & $13.99 at Total Wine. This terrific wine is from the Lake Garda area of northeast Italy, not far from Venice. Zenato produces a nice variety of wines. My wife and I had a great tasting there with two other couples we know.
7. Louis M. Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon for $12.99 at Norman's.
8. Cren del Gufo, Nebbiolo Langhe, for $11.99 at Total Wine.
9. Nero d'Avola is a Sicilian grape. There are a number of Nero d'Avola wines in the $8 - 10 range; e.g., Cusumano and Feudo Arancio Stemmari. I found the Feudo Arancio for $6.99 at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg.
10. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a type of inexpensive wine from the Abruzzo region of Italy. They are nice and can be had for $9 - $11 +. I generally don't buy them, because I haven't visited that region, However, I've been given them as dinner gifts and have always enjoyed them. They should not be confused with the wines from the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany. That town produces a very nice type of wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Decent ones start at about $20. 
11. E.Guigal Cotes du Rhone for $12.99 at Norman's.
12. Michele Chiarlo, Le Orme, Barbera d'Asti Superiore for $13.99 at Norman's and $11.99 at Mazzaro's.
13. Protocolo Tinto. This is a Spanish Tempranillo that is amazingly priced at $5.49 at Total Wine, and $6.99 at Norman's. I have not had it for a couple of years, but always enjoyed it. I believe both this wine and the Numanthia Termes below were developed by the Eguren family.

Nice $20 to $30 Reds

1. We love Antinori's Peppoli Chianti Classico. Norman's sells it for $19.99; I've seen it at Publix for $26.99; and Total Wine currently sells it for $25.99. At one country club wine dinner we attended, a distributor's representative, offered diners a special discount of $28!! Such a deal!
2. Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, for $19.99 at Norman's is excellent.
3. A terrific Spanish red is Numanthia Termes, which sells for $24.99 at Norman's. (They produce a much more expensive wine - Termanthia, which receives rave reviews and sells for over $160 per bottle. I would love to try it.)
4. Ravenswood Teldeschi Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel for $24.99 at Norman's.

Very Special Reds

My favorite big reds are Italian Brunellos and Barolos. Both are produced in very small areas. The Brunellos are produced from a clone of the Sangiovese grape near the beautiful hilltop town of Montalcino in Tuscany. The Barolos are produced from the Nebbiolo grape in the Langhe area of the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Good Brunellos and Barolos are best aged for at least 10 years.

View from Our Hotel Room in Montalcino

Barolo Countryside on a Hazy Day

My favorites of all these wines are the Poggio Antico Brunellos. I have visited the beautiful Poggio Antico winery three times, and I worship its Brunellos. James Suckling, world-renowned wine critic who lives in Tuscany, has rated Poggio Antico's 2007Altero Brunello at 98 points. I have some of that vintage, which still requires a couple more years of aging. Poggio Antico Brunellos typically sell for $60 or more per bottle.

Looking toward Monte Amiata from Poggio Antico Vineyard

There are some very nice reds that I have not had in the past year, but that I would readily recommend. These would probably be nice gifts because they are not readily available at local wine store and would have to be ordered on the Internet. We have visited all of these wineries. They are:
1. Any of the wines from the Maté vineyards near Montalcino in Tuscany ( Great winery to visit and great story behind its creation.
2. Any of the Tablas Creek ( wines from Paso Robles, CA, especially the Esprit to Beaucastel red or white. Great winery to visit.

3. Domaine du Pegau ( Châteauneuf-du-Pape red or white.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hot Buttered Rum Carrots - Yum!

This hot buttered rum carrots recipe is delicious, super fast, and super easy. ( It serves two, but can easily be scaled larger.


1 1/2 cups precut baby carrots
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp spiced rum
1 dash nutmeg


Steam or boil carrots until crisp, tender, or to your liking (I boiled them for 10 minutes.)

Drain carrots

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, rum, and nutmeg. ( I started making this sauce three minutes before the carrots finished cooking, so I could mix the carrots in the sauce right after the next step.)

Heat sauce about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in carrots and cook until coated with sauce and just heated through.

Serve hot.

Sautéed Broccoli - Nice and Very Easy

This broccoli recipe is tasty, fast, and super easy. ( It serves four.


- 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you want more kick)
- 1 bunch of broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces. (If you haven't cut broccoli before, you can find how-to videos on YouTube. It's fast and easy.)
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Heat the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium heat until fragrant and garlic begins to brown, about 30 seconds. 
2. Stir in broccoli and cook until the broccoli is bright green, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the chicken broth and season with salt and pepper. Cook until just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Hamburger Steak with Onions and Gravy Tasty & Easy with a Bit of Work

If you like hamburger, gravy, and onions, you'll probably enjoy this recipe from ( It's easy to prepare, but takes a little bit of work. It serves 4 and takes a total of about an hour to prepare and cook. I served it with broccoli one night, and the leftovers with carrots and rum.


1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup thinly-sliced onion (about half a medium onion)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
1 tbsp cooking sherry


1. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Form into 8 balls and flatten into patties.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the patties and onion in the oil until patties are nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the patties to a plate, and keep warm (I covered them with a skillet cover).
3. Sprinkle flour over the onions and drippings in the skillet. Stir in flour with a fork, scraping bits of beef off the bottom as you stir. Gradually mix in the beef broth and sherry. (I mixed the sherry into the beef broth first.) Season with seasoned salt.
4. Simmer and stir over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, until the gravy thickens. Turn heat to low; return patties to the gravy; cover; and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fantastic Cornbread Recipe

There is a wonderful and easy cornbread recipe that I've made many times. It always turns out great. It's from ( It's a 5-star recipe with nearly 3,900 great reviews.

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2/3 white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Grease an 8 inch square pan
3. Melt butter in large skillet (I do this over very low heat so that the skillet is not too hot when the eggs are added.)
4. As soon as the butter is melted, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the sugar.
5. Quickly add the eggs and stir until well blended.
6. Combine the buttermilk with the baking soda, and stir into the mixture in the skillet. (I prepare the buttermilk and soda while the butter is melting.)
7. Stir in the cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. (I find that if I add the cornmeal and flour slowly, very few lumps are created.)
8. Pour the batter into the pan.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Keeping Track of Dishes I've Cooked

I maintain a database that catalogs all the dishes I've prepared. It helps me to quickly identify the tastiest entrees, sides, desserts, etc. 
It also helps me prepare special-purpose menus; e.g. a Tuscan menu or New Orleans menu. I list those I've served the dishes to so that I don't repeat the same dishes to specific guests.

The database contains the following fields:
- Name of the dish
- Foreign name for the dish (if it's a foreign dish)
- Type of dish - salad, dessert, etc.
- Taste results - Ex (Excellent), VG (Very Good), etc. I normally only repeat the excellent ones
- Level of difficulty
- Country of origin
- Comment - items such as city of origin; e.g., New Orleans, description; e.g., very rich
- Source of the recipe
- People to whom I've served the dish.

Delicious and Easy Chicken Breast Recipe

This chicken breast recipe from is really easy to make and very tasty. ( The recipe I used is a variant based on one of the reviews I read. Many reviewers praised this variant. 

The variant involves wrapping the breasts individually in aluminum foil. That reduces cooking time from 45 minutes to 30 minutes and keeps the chicken breasts very moist. That reviewer also suggested adding a teaspoon of whole grain mustard to the sauce. I meant to do that, but forgot. I'll try it next time.

I also made a change of my own. After cooking, I sprinkled some French's cooked French fried onion rings on top. That was good, but the recipe would have been terrific either way.

The recipe below produces four servings. Since there were only two of us, I cut the amount of all ingredients in half.


4 boneless chicken breast halves.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 & 1/2 teaspoons of seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees 
2. Mix mayonnaise, cheese, and seasonings.
3. Spread mixture over chicken breasts.
4. Wrap each chicken breast separately in aluminum foil.
5. Cook for 30 minutes.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Publix - Why I enjoy Shopping There

For a number of reasons, I really enjoy shopping at my local Publix - over Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Target, and Fresh Market. If Whole Foods and Trader Joe's were closer, I would buy some things at those stores, but would still do the bulk of my shopping at my neighborhood Publix. There are a few things I do not buy at Publix - wine and baguettes.

For starters, I really like the employees. They seem much more customer-focused than those at any other supermarket chain. Almost all are friendly and helpful. There are some I especially like because they recognize me and really go out of their way to be helpful - Janet in the Deli Department, Bill in the Meat Department, and Thomas who packs groceries. One cashier I've gotten to know in the past few months is Sherri. She is both superb at her work and very customer-focused. I look forward to seeing them. I have learned a lot from Janet, Bill, and  Sherri. There are others I like as well, including Larry, Buck, and Marla.

I have also been very impressed with the attitudes and work ethics of the young Publix employees, many of whom are high school students.

I think that one of the key reasons for the great employee attitudes is that Publix is employee-owned. The only ones who can buy stock are Publix employees. Among their benefits are semiannual dividends. Consequently, they are very motivated to ensure Publix success.

I like the selection and store layout much better than those of competitors.

I love the Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGO) offers at Publix; for example, "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter," which we use a lot. The 15 oz. size sells for about $3.69 at Publix and $2.88 at Walmart. We always buy it at the BOGO price of two for $3.69. (It would be even less expensive to buy the Walmart 45 oz. size for $6.28, but that would not work well in our refrigerator.) I estimate (from my database) that I've purchased about 150 BOGO items in 2014 and saved about $650 over Publix normal prices for those items.

I also buy the Publix store brands of some items, like peanut butter and antacid calcium supplements (Tums equivalents).

Publix is very good at accepting competitor coupons if the competitor is within a reasonable distance of the Publix in question. (Each store posts a list of those they accept.) I used many, many Winn-Dixie $5 off $30 coupons and a few similar Target and Fresh Market coupons during the past year.

(When it comes to coupons, I can't begin to match my incredibly skilled sister, who seems to be able to buy $1 million worth of groceries for 15 cents at Publix:) )

I often take advantage of the Publix sales on gasoline gift cards and Master Card/Visa gift cards. These sales normally offer $10 off a $50 card with the purchase of $50 in groceries. With the credit card gift cards, there is a $4.85 activation fee, so that reduces the savings to $5.15 - but that is the equivalent of getting $5.15 in cash for free. The savings on the gas cards equates to 20% per gallon. The savings are even better when you consider the pre-income tax savings. For example, if your top income is in the 15% bracket, you would have to earn about $11.75 to spend $10. If your top income is in the 25% bracket, you would have to earn about $13.33.

Publix has a very friendly return policy. On the rare occasions I have had to return an item, the process has been smooth, friendly, and fast.

Like some other merchants, Publix will give you an item for free if the employees or the customer discover it has been mismarked. On one occasion, I was looking for four packages of chicken breasts that were supposed to be on sale. When I could not find the sale-priced chicken breasts, I asked. Bill discovered that the chicken breasts had been incorrectly marked. I was given the packages for free. (I did not have to ask.)

Publix is terrific at resizing and repackaging Publix brand items to meet customer needs. For example, if I only need two Italian sausages for a dish I'm cooking, but the packages all have four or more sausages, the butchers will readily repackage two for me.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Publix because I learned the basics of cooking at their Apron's cooking school at the store at University and Tuttle.

Wine is one item I rarely purchase at Publix because their prices are usually significantly higher than those at Total Wine or Norman's. For example, I have seen Antinori's Peppoli for $24.99 at Publix and $19.99 at Norman's. Another example is Villa Antinori, which sells for $19.99 at Publix, $15.99 at Norman's, and as low as $13.67 at Total Wine with a $10 off $50 coupon. If I am looking for special wines, I will go a bit farther afield to Michael's Wine Cellar (Michael Klauber is terrific.).

Whenever I need baguettes for something like crostini appetizers for an Italian dinner, I always buy the baguettes at Fresh Market. They are far superior to the Publix version. (However, the Publix key lime pies are terrific.)

I do like to buy produce at Detwiler's Farm Market or Yoder's Marketplace, but they are not close enough to home to do regular shopping there.

I also like some of the Fresh Market ready-to-heat items like Quiche Lorraine.

The only way I wish Publix would emulate Walmart is to reach an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay one cent more per pound for tomatoes to help the farm workers receive reasonable pay for their backbreaking work.  Until then, I am motivated to buy my tomatoes elsewhere.

Green Beans with Bread Crumbs and Parmesan

This easy green bean recipe from ( produces nice, but unexciting results. It is good enough to keep in my inventory and reuse.

The recipe serves four and takes a total of 25 minutes.

- 1 lb fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine green beans and water in a medium pot. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and let beans cook for 10 minutes or until tender. (If the heat is not reduced enough, the water could boil away.) Drain well.

Place beans in a medium serving bowl, and mix in bread crumbs, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and basil. Toss mixture until the beans are coated. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Pork Chops with Maple Bacon Onion Jam - Yum

First of all - Happy New Year!

Last night, I decided to try a variant of the "Terrific Pork Chop Recipe" that I had found on YouTube and posted about 15 months ago ( I have used that recipe over and over because it consistently produces such great results.

This time, I made a couple of changes that produced a very tasty dish (and also saved some onion chopping).

Part way through the cooking process, I spooned onto each pork chop a couple of spoons full of Stonewall Kitchen's Maple Bacon Onion Jam. (I had originally purchased this jam to put on Tuscan pecorino cheese and toasted baguette - a delicious appetizer.)

Below is the jam version of the recipe:


- Two - four pork loin chops 
- Several sprigs of fresh rosemary (or some dried rosemary)
- As many cloves of garlic as you'd like, chopped coarsely. I use four large cloves
- Two soup spoons (or more) of Stonewall Kitchen's Maple Bacon Onion jam for each pork chop
- salt and pepper to taste


- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in an oven-safe skillet.
- Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
- Put the pork chops and rosemary into the skillet and cook the chops for 3-4 minutes on one side.
- Turn the chops with tongs, not a fork.
- Add the garlic, and put a couple of spoons full of jam on top of each pork chop.
- Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
- Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 4-5 minutes.
- Remove the skillet from the oven, using oven-safe gloves or other protection to hold the skillet.
- Remove the pork chops from the skillet  and let them rest for 4-5 minutes. Serve.