Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Acropolis Greek Taverna - A Nice Meal

My wife and I both enjoy Greek food, so we wasted no time in trying the new Acropolis Greek Taverna (http://www.acropolistaverna.com/) close to University Town Center in Sarasota County. We were very happy with our meal, but were disappointed that they had sold out of two dishes.

The sold-out dishes were:
- Fried Kibbeh, which is a wonderful Lebanese dish made of bulghur wheat, beef (or lamb), sauteed onions, and pine nuts.
- House-made rice pudding.

(I noticed several other Levantine Arab dishes on the menu - Felafel and Baba Ghanouj, so I checked out the owner's name - Sam Waez, which I believe is Lebanese. He grew up in Greece.)

We started with an appetizer of Tzatziki and Pita Bread. It was fantastic!!! I could have eaten just that. It was $8.

My wife's main course was the Pastitsio - pasta with seasoned ground beef, with bechamel and tomato sauces and topped with feta cheese. It was very nice.

My main course was Chicken Rhodes - grilled chicken breast in a lemon white wine sauce sauteed with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives, and topped with crumbled goat cheese for $17. It was very tasty, but the chicken was slightly overcooked. It came with two sides. I chose Mediterranean Rice and Greek Potatoes. The rice dish was a mixture of lentils and white rice. The potatoes were delicious, but the rice dish was very ordinary. I would not order it again.

My wife's drink was a Santorini Sunrise Cocktail, which was a very nice mixture of grapefruit vodka, muddled oranges, mint, honey syrup, red grapefruit, orange juice, and club soda for $9. The only reason we knew about the cocktails was the we had looked at the menu n line before going to the restaurant. When we asked our waitress for a cocktail menu, she said they did not have one. She checked to make sure.

My drink was 2015 Tsantali Naousa red wine by the glass for $8 per glass. This pleasant wine is made from Xinomavro grapes from the Macedonia area of northern Greece.

I also had a cup of Greek coffee for $3.50. It was terrific!!!!!!!!!!!!

While we were there, there was various entertainment - the servers danced a lively Greek dance, plates were broken, and hundreds of napkins were thrown in the air, landing on tables and the floor. I could  do without the napkin-throwing and plate breaking. I'd think that the napkins on a tile floor might be a slipping hazard. We did enjoy the dancing.

On Friday and Saturday nights, they have live belly dancing and bouzouki music.

The menu has a number of nice-sounding dishes that I have not seen on Greek restaurant menus in the U.S.

They also have a Sunday brunch with some dishes that I'd intend to try.

Our server, Mariange, was super. She was professional with a very warm personality.

The taverna was full on the Sunday night we were there, so I'd recommend reservations.

Acropolis Greek Taverna is a chain of six restaurants, all located in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota area.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Easy Risotto

Risotto is originally a northern Italian dish. Rice is an important crop along the Po River in the north. Traditional risotto takes a bit of work, so I normally only have it at Italian restaurants. I've found an easy, prepackaged risotto from the Puglia Region in southern Italy. It is produced by "Tiberino" and comes in many flavors. 

I've prepared two different flavors and have been happy with the results:
a. Risotto "Sorrento" with Tomato and Basil
b. Risotto "Venezia" with Asparagus and Leek

To prepare the Tiberino risotto, takes only a couple of easy steps:
1. Put olive oil and water in a large skillet, using the amounts of each liquid specified on the package. Bring to a boil.
2. Put the contents of the risotto package into the skillet; then stir and cover.
3. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. When all the liquid has been absorbed, plate and drizzle with olive oil.

The next one I plan to try is Risotto "Amalfi" with Orange Zest.

Both times, I served it with sauteed shrimp.

In Italy, risotto is normally served as a first course (primo piatto).

In Sarasota, its available at Ancient Olive on St. Armand's Circle. It's also available on Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Balsamic Vinegar - Traditional vs. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Until recently, I knew that great balsamic vinegar comes from the Modena area of the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy, but I did not know there were major differences between two types of balsamic from that area:
1. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (TBV - Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale), and,
2. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (BVM - Aceto Balsamico di Modena)

There are major Italian legal requirements for receiving each designation. Both can only be produced in the neighboring provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. (These provinces are also renowned for their parmesan cheese.) TBV is the better (and more expensive) of the two balsamics. Among its many requirements are that it be aged for a minimum of twelve years and that the grape must that is used to produce it can only be derived from Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes grown in those two provinces. Aging does not simply mean pouring the liquid into wooden barrels and letting it set for twelve years. Instead, the vinegar is moved into successively smaller barrels in a "battery" of barrels, and mixed with vinegar of different ages. It is a complex process. If a bottle has a gold cap with the word "extravecchio," it has been aged at least twenty-five years. Each batch of TBV must be approved by official taste testers.

BMV is industrial grade balsamic that imitates TBV. It only has to be aged for two months, not necessarily in wood. Flavors and sweeteners can be added. The grapes can come from anywhere, but must be pressed in Modena.

We love the Traditional Balsamic and use it with authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil as salad dressing. The one we purchased is aged for 18 years. (Often, many of the olive oils that are sold in supermarkets and have Italian names are not from olives grown in Italy. The olives/oils can be from a host of countries such as Chile, Tunisia, and Greece. The oils may be bottled in Italy. Check the small print on the back of the bottle. to determine the source(s) of the olives.)




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sweet Peppers with Cheeses and Bacon Bits - Simple and Tasty Appetizer or Side

Baby sweet peppers filled with sharp cheddar, flavored cream cheese, and bacon bits make a delicious and easy appetizer. The number of peppers can easily be scaled up or down and the cheese mixture can be changed. The recipe is from Publix. I made two changes:
- Instead of wrapping a whole strip of bacon around each pepper, I mixed precooked bacon bits/pieces with the cheese filling.
- I used chive & onion flavored cream cheese instead of jalapeño-cheddar flavored cream cheese.

Ingredients
- 8 oz bag of baby sweet peppers (6-8 peppers)
- several spoonfuls of precooked bacon bits/pieces
- 4 oz flavored cream cheese, such as olive oil & herb, jalapeño & cheddar, chive & onion
- 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325° or preheat grill

2. Remove pepper stems; slice peppers lengthwise; and remove seeds and membranes.

3. Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and bacon bits.

4. Fill pepper halves with cheese and bacon mixture.

5. Roast or grill for 2 to 3 minutes until cheese melts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Schnitzel Kitchen - A German Feast

Eating delicious food in a warm, friendly atmosphere with wonderful friends - it doesn't get any better than that. Our experience last night at Schnitzel Kitchen (http://www.schnitzelkitchen.com/) was one of those special experiences.

While I'm not an expert on German food, I know what I like, and I loved every bite of food and sip of beer at Schnitzel Kitchen. Five of the six friends whom we joined have lived in Germany - one couple for over eight years. They had nothing but the highest praise for their meals. On top of that, our waitress was fantastic.

My wife had bratwurst with red cabbage and a potato pancake for $14.75 + $3.25 for the potato pancake, Riesling wine for $8 per glass, and plum cake for $8.50. The plum cake is a house specialty.

I had wiener schnitzel topped with jäger sauce with sides of red cabbage and potato pancake for $22.75 + $3.25 for the potato pancake, Weihenstephan draft lager for $7 per large stein, and plum cake. I normally drink wine, but one of our friends recommended the beer. It's one of the tastiest beers I've ever had - smooth, flavorful, and far too easy to drink. There were many great German side dishes too choose from, but the red cabbage was so good, it will be hard to resist it next time.

On top of all the other great aspects of the evening, I had the opportunity to speak a few words of German with our waitress.

Schnitzel Kitchen, which is located in the Gulf Gate area of Sarasota, is open Tues-Sat 4:30 - 9:00 pm. I strongly recommend making reservations. The restaurant was full last night.

We will return.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sauté Sea Scallops - Super Easy

I recently decided to try to sauté sea scallops. I couldn't believe how easy it was. It took about 5 minutes and worked beautifully. I served them with risotto. I found the recipe on http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-scallops-on-the-stovetop-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-203516.

I did two things differently. I used only one pound of sea scallops and I used a non-stick skillet instead of a stainless steel skillet. I recommend reading the original article which is much more detailed.

Ingredients
- 1 pound of sea scallops
- 1 tbsp of butter or olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Remove side muscle from each scallop. It's a small tab that's tougher than the scallop. It pulls off very easily. (They're not harmful to eat.)

2. Pat scallops dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat olive oil or butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Skillet is ready when a few drops of water evaporate on contact.

4. Cook scallops one side for two minutes.

5. Flip scallops with tongs or spatula and cook on other side for two-three minutes. Scallops are ready when golden brown on both sides and opaque all the way through.

6. Serve immediately.

Easy Flat-Bread Pizza

After tasting a bit of flat-bread pizza at Publix recently, I decided to make one of my own, with my choice of ingredients. It was really easy, and I was delighted with the results. The two pizza crusts in the package are enough to make four servings. 

Ingredients
- One package of "naturally fermented Brooklyn Bred pizza crust" (available at Publix)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- One can of Cento San Marzano peeled tomatoes (available at Publix). The tomatoes are canned in thick sauce. These tomatoes are grown in the Campania region of Italy in an area not far from Mt. Vesuvius. They are perfect for pizza, for which nearby Naples is famous.
- One 8 oz. package of fresh mozzarella cheese (I used 4 ounces per pizza.)
- Four slices of Publix herb-coated hard salami, sliced in quarters
- Six pitted Castelvetrano olives, sliced in half. These olives are from the Sicilian town of Castelvetrano. I buy 2-lb jars of them at BJ's and use them in salads. 
- Six fresh basil leaves

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Brush olive oil on top of pizza.

3. Brush the thick tomato sauce from the Cento can onto  the pizza crust.

4. Slice about three of the tomatoes and put them on the pizza crust. 

Cut four ounces of the mozzarella into small wedges and place on the pizza crust.

5. Put the salami pieces and olives onto the crust.

6. Bake per instructions on the pizza crust package. The amount of time depends on whether you place the crust directly on the oven rack, on a tray or on a pizza stone. Nine minutes on a tray was perfect for ours. For the first pizza, I started out by putting the pizza directly on the rack, but soon discovered that melting cheese was dripping into the oven.

7. Place basil leaves on pizza and serve.

$10 Gift Card with Flu Shot at Publix

Through the end of October 2017, Publix is offering a $10 gift card with a flu shot. Since most health insurance companies pay the full cost of a flu shot, that's $10 per person free and clear. For a working person in the 15% tax bracket, that's the equivalent of about $12.80 in gross income before tax and social security.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Super-easy, Tasty Sautéed Garlicky Broccoli Recipe

This tasty broccoli recipe is really easy to make. You could also modify it by adding any desired spice to add more flavor. I found it at: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/december-2007-garlicky-sauteed-broccoli

Ingredients

- 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets (I only used 1 lb)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- salt
- water
- crushed red pepper (optional)

Directions

1. Put 1/2 inch of water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and boil just until bright green, about 4 minutes. Drain well and wipe skillet dry.  (I avoided having to dry the skillet by pouring the broccoli into a colander to drain. The hot skillet immediately dried itself.)

2. Add olive oil and garlic to skillet and cook over moderately high heat just until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add broccoli, season with salt and cook, tossing occasionally until crisp-tender - about 3 minutes. Season with crushed red pepper and serve.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Darwin Evolutionary Cuisine - Wonderful

Darwin Santa Maria is a renowned Sarasota chef who's been involved in a number of Sarasota culinary endeavors. We've always loved his food and were anxious to try his latest - Darwin Evolutionary Cuisine. As always, he did not disappoint.

My wife and I both started with the Chilled Mango Gazpacho for $6. It was the most wonderful gazpacho I've ever had- richly flavorful. Every spoonful was wonderful. The gazpacho alone would be enough to lure me back.

My wife's entree was Entraña - grilled skirt steak, roasted sweet plantain, salsa beef criolla, and chimichurri sauce for $26. She is addicted to Darwin's skirt steak at whatever restaurant he operates. She keeps vowing to try something else, but can't pass up the skirt steak.

I had Andino Pesto Coated Lamb Chops with lentil stew, grilled asparagus, and roasted tomatoes for $38. The lamb was superb - tasty and perfectly cooked.

Our wine was a bottle of Pico Maccario Barbera d'Asti - a red from the Piedmont Region in northwest Italy for $34. It was very nice.

They did not have quite enough staff, so the service was a bit slow. There was also one diner who had no volume control.

The restaurant is located in the strip mall just south of Trader Joe's. almost next to the wonderful Peperonata Pasta empanada shop.

We highly recommend Darwin's latest.

Automobile Remote Key/Key Fob Battery Replacement - Be Alert

If the battery-operated key fob/remote key for your vehicle shows any sign of weakening, REPLACE IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a situation where you can't open your car door or start your vehicle. Fortunately, many batteries are easy and inexpensive to replace. Signs of weakening are:
1. You have to be closer to the a trunk or hatchback to open it.
2. The key battery warning light is lit on your dashboard. (This does not always happen.)
3. The vehicle will not start when the key fob is in a place where it's always worked - like a pants pocket.

I had two recent personal experiences and witnessed another. In one case, the trunk seemed to open more slowly and I had to be closer. Also, the battery would suddenly not work when the battery was in my pants pocket. I had to take it out. The next day, the battery died completely. Fortunately, it happened at home. In the second case, the dashboard key battery warning light came on. The next day that battery died.

Fortunately, I found on-line videos that showed how to replace each battery. The owner's manual of one vehicle also described how to replace the key. However, it was not as clear as the video. Both replacements only took a couple of minutes. One battery was very common. The second battery was a little harder to find, but I located one at Walgreen's. One of the batteries was four years old and the other was only two years old.

As a precaution, you could replace the battery every two years.

The key fob for a previous vehicle had a battery that could not be replaced. One had to buy a brand new key for nearly $200. Luckily, that battery lasted the four years I owned the vehicle.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Armand's Place French Tavern, Sarasota - Must Try

In recent weeks, I've been remiss in posting about our great restaurant experiences because I've been tied up in the publication of my novel, Team Triad. However, I have to write about the great lunch we had today at Armand's Place (http://armandsplace.com/) on St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. Our meal was terrific. It is authentic and offers a selection of dishes that is different than other Sarasota French restaurants. The owner/chef Alexandre, a recent Parisian arrival, is warm, friendly, and talented.

My wife and I both had the three-course "Light Menu" which offers an appetizer, entrée and dessert for $19. There is an extra $2 charge for certain appetizers and desserts. There is a nice number of selections for each course. There is also a two-course "Light Menu" for $16. There are also many à la carte choices.

My wife and I both had the pâté et cornichons appetizer (country pâté, French pickles, and baguette slices). This was one of the extra charge appetizers. It was superb.

My wife's main course was Crepe Strasbourg - with cheese, fried egg, and sausage. Mine was the Crepe Bordeaux - with cheese, fried egg, ground lamb, and mushrooms. Both crepes were terrific.

We both had the same dessert - Crepe Sucre Citron - lemon and sugar crepe. They were delicious.

My wife's drink was a Raspberry Bellini - raspberry purée and champagne - $7.50.

I had two different glasses of wine. The first was a 2010 Chateau le Monge Côtes de Bourg for $8. It was past its prime. The second was a 2015 Raymond Fabre Côtes du Rhône for $8. It was very tasty.

The decor of Armand's Place is light and airy.

Alexandre kindly spoke French slowly and clearly to me so I could practice my French.

If we lived closer to Armand's Place, I could easily become addicted.

Monday, April 17, 2017

One Fix When HP All-in-One Printer Prints, But Won't Copy or Scan

My current current all-in-one printer is an HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus and my previous one was an HP Officejet J6400. Each experienced with scanning and copying, but had no problem with printing. The symptoms were different, but the solution was the same and very easy - clean the glass properly.

The glass may appear to be clean at first glance, but it may be just clouded enough to keep the scanner from aligning properly. The copies and scans I was making just prior to the problem all appeared to be fine.

The symptom with the J6400 was a horrible grinding noise  from the alignment bar. With the 8600, there was no such noise. Instead, I received various error messages, none of which suggested the problem. The messages said things like, "Scan, copy, and fax failed;" and "Can't communicate with printer."

With the J6400, it was the underside of the glass that was dirty. I was very fortunate to find an on-line explanation (by a user, not by HP) on how to access the underside of the glass.

With the 8600, it was the top of the glass that was causing the problem.

There are on-line videos that explain how to clean the glass. It is very important to use glass cleaner or water. It is also important to apply the cleaner to a lint-free cloth, not directly to the glass.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rick's French Bistro, Sarasota - Magnifique!

Last night, we enjoyed a terrific dinner with friends at Rick's French Bistro (http://www.ricksfrenchbistro.com/) in Sarasota.We are grateful to our friends for suggesting this terrific restaurant. Every bite was wonderful.

My wife and I share an appetizer of Cognac Country Pâté (Pâté de Campagne au Cognac) for $10.95. It was wonderful.

For her main course, my wife enjoyed Grilled Lamb Chops with Provençal Herbs (Cotes d'Agneau aux Fines Herbes de Provence) for $27.50. They were perfect.

My main course was Chef Michele's Duck Cassoulet (Le Canard du Chef Michele) with sausage, white beans, onions, cognac, and white wine sauce for $30.50. It was magnificent!!!!!

For dessert, my wife had chocolate mousse for $7 and I had Crêpes à l'Orange for $7.50. Both were delicious.

Our wine was a nice Paul Bouchard Côtes du Rhône for $33.95.

As is often the case with bistros, the menu and wine list are relatively short, but they cover a variety of types.

The owners of Rick's are Michele and Richard who are from Amiens, north of Paris. Michele is the chef.

Rick's is very popular, so reservations are very important.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Island Grill and Raw Bar, St. Petersburg - a Delightful Lunch

Yesterday, my wife and I joined friends for lunch at Island Grill and Raw Bar (http://www.islandrawbar.com/) in St. Petersburg. It was a pleasant way to spend an early afternoon. 

We both had lobster sliders, which came with three sliders and a side for $17. The sliders were filled with delicious lobster meat, and the fries we had were very tasty. I also had a cup of the lobster bisque for $5. It was a bit on the sweet side, but was tasty. 

My wife had a mango rum punch for $9. She wasn't crazy about it. I had a glass of the Banfi Centine rosé for $7.50. It went perfectly with the lobster.

The sides of the restaurant were open and a nice breeze kept us comfortable.

Our server, Scott, was terrific.

The restaurant web site lists its city location as Tierra Verde, but our navigation system would only recognize St. Petersburg.

Mamma Agata's Lemon Cake - Dolce di Limone

Along the Sorrentine Peninsula, which includes the Amalfi Coast on it southern side, lemons are a major crop and are used in many dishes from pasta sauce to desserts to limoncello liqueur.  Lemon cakes are a very popular dessert. 

In searching for a lemon cake recipe, I found a winner in Dolce di Limone, by Mamma Agata, a renowned cook from the beautiful town of Ravello. I made two of these cakes in the past two weeks, and I was very pleased with the results. The end product is a moist cake completely infused with lemon flavor. It takes a bit of work, but I believe it's worth the effort for a special dinner.

I found a version of Mamma Agata's recipe at  https://mykitchenmemories.com/2014/08/10/lemon-cake-mamma-agatas-dolce-al-limone/. I have changed the instructions to reflect my own experiences. There is also a YouTube video with instructions at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb_xnWj1kSE. 

You might want to check out Mamma Agata's web site:http://www.mammaagata.com/.

This recipe serves 10, unless you taste it and decide you might want to consume the whole thing.

Ingredients

A. Cake Dough
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 sticks of butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 4 eggs
- grated zest pf 3 large lemons or 5-6 small ones
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 cups "00" flour or white pastry flour. I used King Arthur unbleached cake flour. Do not use all-purpose flour or bread flour.
- 4 1/4 tsp of baking powder. (This sounds like a lot, but is the perfect amount.
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped (optional)
B. Lemonade Mixture to Infuse into Dough after Baking
- 1 1/4 cups water
- juice of the 3 large or 5-6 small lemons you zested
- 8 Tbsp sugar

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Butter a non-stick Bundt pan and coat lightly with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Make sure to butter the Bundt pan liberally with butter to help prevent the cake from sticking to the pan.

3. Mix the butter in a mixing bowl on high speed for at least 2 minutes. (If the sticks of butter are too cold and not at room temperature, the sticks could fly out of the bowl when you begin mixing.)

4. Add the sugar and continue to whip until a soft cream mixture forms.

5. Mix the baking powder into the flour and set aside.

6. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter and sugar mixture and blend. Then add the salt and grated lemon zest.

7. Alternate adding and blending a little of the flour mixture and the milk into the mixing bowl until all is used up and blended into the batter.

8. Mix the ingredients on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the batter has a light and airy consistency similar to a mousse.

9. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven. While the cake is baking, do not open the oven door to peek or the cake will not rise properly.

10. While the cake is baking, prepare the lemonade mixture. Squeeze the lemons into a pitcher. Add the sugar to the lemon juice and stir until dissolved. Add the water and stir well.

11. Once the cake is finished baking, let it sit for 2 hours outside the oven until it is at room temperature.

12. Before starting to add the lemonade, make sure the cake does not stick to the pan. Hold a dish towel firmly on top of the cake and carefully turn the pan upside down. If the cake does not easily separate from the pan, do not force it, or the cake may come apart. If the cake does not easily come out of the pan, place it back into the oven at 350 degrees for several minutes. This will warm up the butter and allow it to release. If it still does not release, you can insert something very thin between the sides of the cake and the pan to try to separate them.

13. Once the cake comes nicely out of the pan, gently place it back into the pan so you can begin pouring the lemonade. Over the course of 30 minutes, pour some lemonade over the entire exposed part of the cake every 10 minutes. This allows the cake to absorb the lemonade. Make sure you have some lemonade left after the 3 ours. After the cake has absorbed the third pour, gently tip the cake out of the pan onto the serving dish you plan to use. Add the remaining lemonade to the top of the cake, distributing it evenly, and let it absorb for at least 10 minutes.

14. Garnish the cake with the chopped hazelnuts or sprinkle confectioners sugar on top.

You could serve it with limoncello.



Mamma Agata's Pasta Sauce

This pasta sauce recipe is very easy to make. I found it at Mamma Agata's web site (http://www.mammaagata.com/press/pdf/where-women-cook.pdf). The recipe should serve four. I added half again as many ingredients to those below because I was preparing dinner for six. I have added one comment to the additional recipe. My comment is underlined. I added the first direction below because I peeled the tomatoes.

Ingredients

- 2 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb of cherry or Roma tomatoes (can be half of each) I used Roma tomatoes.
- 2 pinches of sea salt
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil
- 2 pinches of dried oregano

Directions

1. If using Roma tomatoes, peel by:
- cutting an x into the tip of each tomato
- place in boiling water for about 25 seconds
- put in ice water to stop cooking
- peel. It should come right off.

2. Thinly slice the garlic. Add the olive oil and garlic to a large saucepan at the same time. Note: Do not heat the oil first, and then add the garlic to the pan. Rather, place the ingredients into the pan at room temperature, and then heat the pan. Heat on high for 1-2 minutes.

3. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half (or quarters if they are large or if you are using Roma tomatoes).

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, sea salt, and fresh basil to the pan with the oil and garlic. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the oregano.

4. Cook your favorite pasta al dente, drain the pasta, and add it to the sauce. You have to marry your favorite ingredients before serving. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

An Amalfi Coast - Sorrento - Capri - Pompeii Dinner

My wife and I and two other couples alternate hosting dinners for the six of us. This month was our turn. I selected a southwest Italian theme covering the area from Pompeii to Ravello near Amalfi. The area contains some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery on earth, and has some very nice cuisine and good wines.

I called the dinner, "Una Cena Amalfitana" (An Amalfi Dinner).

Along the Amalfi Coast

The dishes and wines on the menu were:


Antipasto
Castelvetrano & Cerrignola Olives, Roasted Red Peppers, Marinated Mushrooms, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Prosciutto, Baguette Slices Baked with Olive Oil

Paccheri Pasta con Salsa di Pommodoro di Mamma Agata
(Paccheri Pasta with Mamma Agata’s Tomato Pasta Sauce)

Pesce All’Acqua Pazza
(Fish in Crazy Water)

Insalata Caprese
(Capri Salad)

Dolce al Limone di Mamma Agata
(Mamma Agata’s Lemon Cake)

Wines
Foss Marai Prosecco
Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio White & Red
(Tears of Christ of Mt. Vesuvius)


The antipasto was not an authentic Amalfi area antipasto, but it had the right spirit.

The paccheri pasta has an interesting story. It is wide, short tubular pasta that was supposedly created by Italian farmers to smuggle their tasty garlic into Austria after Austrian farmers convinced their government to ban the Italian garlic.

There were two items in which I used the recipes of Mamma Agata  (http://www.mammaagata.com/), a remarkable chef in Ravello, near Amalfi. She has a cooking school, has a cookbook, and sells Italian foods. She has cooked for the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, etc., etc.

A view from Ravello, high above the Tyrrehenian Sea

I intend to post both of the Mamma Agata recipes I used, with my comments about each. The pasta sauce is simple and easy. The cake takes a bit of work, but it is fantastic!!!!

I previously created a post about the fish dish (http://viaggiviniecucine.blogspot.com/2016/10/fish-in-crazy-water-pesce-all-acqua.html), which is very easy to make.

Caprese salad was created on the Isle of Capri. located just off the coast from Sorrento. The colors of its ingredients - tomato, mozzarella, and basil - represent the colors of the Italian flag. The way I served it was with a slice of tomato, topped by a slice of mozzarella, topped by a basil leaf, and then another layer of each. It is served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Of course, the Prosecco wine was from the Veneto in northern Italy. The other two wines were from Mt. Vesuvius, just north of Sorrento. They were very nice. I wanted to serve wines from the Amalfi area, but could not find any locally.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Veronica Fish and Oyster - Very Nice

My wife and I recently enjoyed a delightful dinner at Veronica Fish and Oyster (http://veronicafishandoyster.com/) on Hillview near Morton's market in Sarasota. Our original intention was to dine at a restaurant in Siesta Village. Big mistake! That place was mobbed.

My wife had the Shrimp  & Grits & Scallops with wine & garlic butter and bacon and roasted oyster mushrooms for $32. 

I had the Bouillabaisse, a Monday night special. It had sea bass, Key West pink shrimp, mussels, clams, blue crab, and Yukon gold potatoes. It came with three slices of toast for dipping in the broth. As the waiter told us in advance, there was less broth than in a typical bouillabaisse. The cost was $36. 

Both of our main dishes were terrific.

We also ordered the house-made potato rolls with bottarga (mullet roe) butter for $3. The rolls were incredible.

My wife had a glass of sangria for $8. She did not care for it.

I had a very nice Laetitia Ducroux Sancerre for $13 per glass. I thought it went perfectly with the bouillabaisse.

One interesting looking item on the menu is a "Porchetta Board," which our server said includes porchetta, chicken liver pâté, smoked duck pastrami, and smoked fish. I intend to return to try it. Hopefully, the porchetta will resemble the authentic Italian version, which we love.

Our server, Dillon, was very professional and pleasant.

The atmosphere was very nice and there were outdoor tables with heaters.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

California Pizza Kitchen - As Good As We Remember

It has been years since we lived close to a California Pizza Kitchen (https://www.cpk.com/Location/Details/Sarasota), whose Thai Chicken Pizza my wife loved. We were delighted to see that one had finally opened at the nearby University Town Center Mall.

A couple of days ago, we decided to give the new one a try. We were rewarded with the fantastic pizzas we remembered. My wife, of course, had the Thai Chicken pizza with grilled chicken breast peanut sauce topped with crisp bean sprouts, julienned carrots, and slivered scallions. I had the California Club pizza with Nueskes applewood smoked bacon (the magic word), roasted chicken and mozzarella, baked and then topped with avocado, wild arugula, fresh-torn basil and Romaine lettuce tossed in lemon-pepper mayo. Since the pizzas were to go, they provided the fresh toppings for the California Club in a separate container.

The pizzas were about $14.25 apiece. Each was large enough for two to provide leftovers for a second dinner.

We'll definitely return.

A Delightful Birthday Dinner at P.F. Chang's

P.F. Chang's and Selva Grill were our daughter's top choices as restaurants for a dinner to celebrate her birthday. We opted for P.F. Chang's (https://www.pfchangs.com/info/menu) because we've enjoyed Selva Grill a number of times, but had never tried P.F. Chang's. It was a great choice. The meal was delicious.

Our daughter's main course was Orange Peel Shrimp ($17.50), my wife chose Mongolian Beef ($16.95) and I selected Wok-Fired Filet Mignon ($19.95). All three were excellent.

The side of white rice I was served was blah.

Our daughter's dessert was the small Strawberry Ginger Shortcake ($3.95). My wife had Banana Spring Rolls ($7.25), and I had the small Seasonal Cobbler ($3.95). which was mixed berry and which was served with vanilla ice cream. I had been considering skipping dessert because I felt very full. I'm glad I was too weak to resist the temptation. The cobbler was outstanding, and the other desserts were also delicious.The Banana Spring Rolls were complimentary for a birthday treat. 

For drinks, our daughter had Spiked Lemon Tea ($9.50) and a Mai Tai ($9.50), my wife had Mai Tais, and I had a large glass of 2014 Bodega Pillaboa Rias Baixas Albariño, a semi-sweet Spanish white wine from Rias Baixas, Galicia ($12). The drinks were all very nice

Michael, our server, was good-humored and professional.

It was a great way to celebrate a great daughter's birthday.

I would strongly recommend reservations because the large dining area was full. I made reservations in mid-afternoon, and no table were available between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Keke's Breakfast Cafe - A Great Omelet Experience

A friend of mine and I decided to try lunch today at Keke's Breakfast Cafe (http://www.kekes.com/), which has an extensive menu of both breakfast and lunch items. 

I opted for a complex Create Your Own Meat Omelet. The ingredients I chose were bacon, sausage, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese. It is very difficult to prepare one of these omelets in a way that allows each of the ingredients to retain their distinct flavors. In this case, the chef met the challenge with distinction. I lovedddddddddddd the omelet. It look great and tasted fantastic. The cost came to $12.99.

My friend chose one of the Stuffed French Toast options and enjoyed it very much.

Our server, Helen was pleasant and professional.

Our local Keke's is located near Sarasota's University Town Center mall and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It offers breakfast items the entire time it is open.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cafe Bologna - Terrific, Authentic Cuisine from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Cafe Bologna in Osprey is a very special restaurant which specializes in the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna and northern Italy. The owners and chefs are Barbara and Claudio, who are both from Bologna in Emilia-Romagna.

There are many regional cuisines in Italy, and they are different from one another and different from Italian-American cuisine. One regional cuisine is from the region of Emilia-Romagna, the Breadbasket of Italy, which is just above Tuscany. Among the region's well-known culinary cities are:
- Parma, with its Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma
- Bologna, famous for Bolognese sauce
- Modena, the source of the finest balsamic vinegars.

As Cafe Bologna's web site (http://www.bolognacafe.com/) states, you will not find spaghetti and meatballs or fettucine Alfredo or chicken Parmigiana there. They also do not offer pizza, which originated in southern Italy.

The pastas they serve are traditional pastas from Emilia-Romagna, such as gnocchi, gramigna, tagliatelle, tortelli, and tortellini.

We recently had a terrific meal there with and at the suggestion of wonderful friends. Every dish was superb, and the service was excellent. It was a perfect evening.

We started with an amuse-bouche of sweet-pea soup.

That was followed by an appetizer tower of Prosciutto di Parma, homemade Mozzarella cheese, tomato, olives, and basil for four at $11 per person. (Prosciutto di Parma is one of Italy's best prosciuttos.)


Prosciutto and Mozzarella

My wife had a Bella Donna Salad with arugula, pears, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese for $17.

My wife and our friends had a special main course of risotto with artichokes finished off inside a wheel of aged Parmesan cheese for $39 each. The restaurant buys huge wheels of aged Parmesan. The date on this wheel was July of 2013.



The Parmesan Wheel with Risotto

My main course was house-made tortelli pasta with Bolognese sauce for $26. Normally, I would not order a dish with Bolognese sauce in a restaurant because it tends not to be very special. However our friends said this was a terrific Bolognese sauce which Barabara spends hours making. It was the best Bolognese sauce I've ever had - by far.


Torttelli alla Bolognese

For dessert, my wife had a Crema Catalana for $9.

I had an apple ciambella cake with vanilla gelato for $12. Barbara said it was her grandmother's recipe.

I followed dessert with an Espresso Corretto - espresso with Sambuca, an anise-flavored liqueur.

Our wine was a Poggiopiano Chianti Classico for $48 per bottle.

The wine menu offers an extensive selection of Italian wines. It only has one from Emilia-Romagna, which is not known for its wines.

Claudio is very affable and very happy to explain the dishes he makes.

Cafe Bologna also has an excellent deli counter.

Una esperienza eccezionale!





Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sweet Peppers Filled with Couscous, Prosciutto, Artichoke Hearts, and Other Goodies

In searching for a way to use sweet peppers and leftover couscous, I found this easy recipe, which I is very easy to modify to meet different tastes and desired number of servings. I cut large sweet peppers in half and filled them with a mixture of couscous, chopped prosciutto, and marinated artichoke hearts, Then I topped them with grated Parmesan cheese and roasted them. Other items that you can mix with the couscous are your favorite type of chopped olives, fresh mozzarella, shallots, minced garlic, and pine nuts. 

Preparing this recipe was made even easier by following a suggestion from the author of the web site where I found the recipe 
(http://www.vodkaandbiscuits.com/2016/04/25/mediterranean-stuffed-peppers/). Instead of cutting off the tops of the peppers and stuffing them, I sliced them lengthwise.

The original recipe served 12. I easily reduced this one to serve two. Below is the recipe for two. It's very easy to scale.

I recommend reading the complete article on the web site where I found the recipe. Lots of good comments and pics.

Ingredients

- Half a sweet bell pepper for each serving. (Use orange, red, or yellow peppers.)
- Couscous (Like the author on the web site, I used Near East brand couscous. It only takes 5 minutes to prepare. One small box will be enough for many servings.)
- a small amount of chopped prosciutto per serving (I often have open, refrigerated packages of diced prosciutto to add to salads.)
- four quartered and marinated artichoke hearts per serving (I often have open refrigerated jars of Reese marinated artichoke hearts for adding to salads, pastas, etc.)
- a tablespoon of grated Parmesan for each serving.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- a small amount of olive oil for rubbing on peppers

Directions

1. Prepare the couscous per package directions. (The web site author used chicken stock instead of water. I normally use water and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.)

2. Cut the peppers lengthwise in half, and remove the ribs and seeds. Baste outside with olive oil.

3. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400°

4. Mix couscous, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, and other stuffing ingredients. (If using pine nuts, shallots, and/or minced garlic, saute first.)

5. Select baking dish large enough to hold peppers. Put about a half inch of water in the bottom of the dish.

6. Put stuffing into bell peppers, and top with grated Parmesan. Place bell peppers open-side up in baking dish. Loosely cover baking dish with aluminum foil.

7. Place in oven and cook for 40 minutes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Creamy Lemon Chicken - Nice and Easy

This delicious and easy chicken can be served over potatoes or pasta. I served it once over linguine and once over sliced honey gold baby potatoes sauteed in butter for 10 minutes.We liked both. The originator of the recipe also served it over mashed potatoes.  

I found this recipe at http://www.recipetineats.com/creamy-lemon-chicken/

The original recipe serves four. Since I was cooking for just the two of us, I reduced the amount of chicken in half.

Below is my version of the original recipe.

Ingredients

- 1 chicken breast sliced in half horizontally to create two thin pieces of chicken. The weight of the chicken breast depends on how much chicken you'd like. For starters, you could try a 12-ounce piece.
- salt and pepper
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 1/4 cups chicken broth or stock
- 3/4 cup of regular or low-fat cream
- juice of one lemon
- a tbsp of finely chopped parsley

Instructions

1. Sprinkle each side of each piece of chicken with salt and pepper. Then coat each piece with flour and shake of the excess.
2. Place butter and oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, swirl the oil and butter together.
3. Add chicken and cook the first side until golden. Then turn over and cook until the other side is golden. This took me about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a plate.
4. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup of chicken broth; bring to a simmer, and scrape the brown bits on the bottom of the skillet into the liquid. Add remaining chicken broth and cream. Simmer for two minutes until slightly thickened. (The sauce thickens more as it cools during serving.)
5. Stir through  the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if you wish.
6. Return chicken to the skillet. (Also pour in any juice on the plate that held the chicken.) Cook for another minute to reheat the chicken and thicken the sauce more.
7. Place chicken on dinner plates with pasta or potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley if desired. Either pour the lemon cream sauce over the chicken or put it in a gravy bowl for diners' choice.

Brasa & Pisco - Delicious Peruvian Cuisine

My wife and I recently enjoyed a delicious dinner at Brasa & Pisco (http://www.brasaandpisco.com/) a Peruvian restaurant at Lockwood Ridge and University.

My wife started with an appetizer of wontons filled with slow-cooked pork and served with a Huacatay, a Peruvian herb sauce, for $8. My appetizer was beef fritters filled with beef and picadillo, egg, and olives, with a side of dipping sauce, for $9. Both were very tasty.

Her main course was Bisteco a lo Pobre - New York strip steak with fried egg, sweet plantains, homemade fries, and a side of chimichurri sauce, for $25.

Bisteco a lo Pobre

My main course was Tacu Tacu a lo Brasa, a multilayered stack with tacu tacu at the bottom, covered by sweet plantains,  grilled beef in aji panca marinade, then egg, then topped by Peruvian onion slaw, and with a side of chimichurri sauce, for $24. Tacu tacu are basically Peruvian bean and rice fritters. Both dishes were very tasty.

Tacu Tacu a lo Brasa

Her drink was was a piscojita, which had Trader Vic's 151 rum, fresh mint, fresh lime, and pisco - a Peruvian brandy - for $11. She enjoyed it, but will probably try Sangria next time. 

I had a glass of Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon for $9. It was decent.

The wine list had only five whites and five reds. However, this cuisine is not overly conducive to pairing with wine.

Our server, Courtney, was excellent.

The atmosphere seemed on the cold side to me.

Yo! Sushi! - More Than Just Sushi

During the time we lived in Japan, we enjoyed many types of Japanese cuisine, including comfort foods at mom & pop restaurants and at festival food stands. Some of those delicious dishes are hard to find at Japanese restaurants in the U.S.. However, I've discovered Yo! Sushi (http://www.yosushiusa.com/find-a-yo/sarasota), a British-origin chain restaurant that sells both sushi and many Japanese comfort dishes.

I've recently dined at the one in Sarasota's University Town Center mall twice - once with my wife for dinner and once with a friend for lunch. The three of us enjoyed the food. It's not the same as having these dishes in Japan, but it's the next best thing.

They offer about 80 different dishes, including 18 vegan and 26 vegetarian dishes. They also have seven desserts and Japanese drinks. The dishes range in price from $3.00 to $7.00. Some of the more expensive ones are on sale for $3.50 until January 27.

They also sell the popular Japanese ramune soft drink in a variety of flavors. This bottled drink is also known as "marble soda" because you press down on a marble in the cap to open the bottle.

Examples of the dishes they offer in addition to sushi are: spring rolls, gyoza (pot stickers), chicken katsu, chicken katsu curry, shrimp tempura ramen, chicken yakisoba, shrimp yakisoba, spicy seafood udon, miso soup unlimited, and spring rolls.

There are two ways to get the dishes you want - either the traditional way from a server or off of a constantly moving conveyor belt. You can also do a combination of the two.

So if you have a craving for Japanese comfort food or want to try it, I suggest you give Yo! Sushi a shot.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Limited Life Time Warranties for Home Repairs

When items in your home need repair, it can be worth your while to determine if they are covered by limited lifetime warranties. It can save you money and/or make it easier to find replacement parts. I have had good experiences with five different companies - Schlage (door locks), Blum (cabinet door hinges), Paramount (pool circulation systems), Moen (faucets), and Delta (faucets). In most cases, the parts and shipping were free. In one case, I paid a small amount for shipping. 

In order to be covered, you have to be the original owner. You may have to provide proof.

Schlage has provided me with two door and lock sets, Blum with a number of hinges, Paramount with a pool pop-up, Moen with faucet cartridges, and Delta with an aerator. In all cases, the service people at these companies were very knowledgeable and helpful.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Easy-to-Peel Hard-Boiled Eggs

I used to get very frustrated with hard-boiled eggs that were hard to peel. Then I found this solution in an AOL article on suggestions for using salt. I've used it many times, and it works beautifully. I normally cook three or four eggs when we have them for breakfast.

Directions

Put eggs in a saucepan.

Fill saucepan with enough water to cover eggs.

Place one teaspoon of salt in water.

Put cover on saucepan.

Bring water to a boil.

As soon as water is boiling, remove pan from heat, but keep cover on pan.

Let covered pan sit for 12 minutes.

Remove cover and eggs, and serve. (Eggs will still be very hot, so you may have to wait a couple of minutes before peeling.)


Easy Baked Potatoes

My wife taught me how to make baked potatoes. I've tried it several times, and the potatoes turn out just the way we like them. It works fine for two potatoes, but cooking time might have to be adjusted for more potatoes.

Ingredients

Two baking potatoes, like Russet potatoes
Toppings, like sour cream, butter, green onions

Directions

1. Using a dinner fork, puncture potatoes:
- once at each end (one puncure with a 4-tined fork = 4 holes.)
- twice lengthwise on each side
- three times laterally on the top and bottom

2. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.

3. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450° and bake for 15 minutes.

4. Serve, slice open, and apply favorite toppings.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Easy Sauteed Chicken, Celery, and Onion

This easy chicken skillet dish is my own creation, influenced by the Giada de Laurentiis Chicken Piccata I previously posted. It serves two. I created it to use some leftover celery and chicken broth.

Ingredients

- 3/4 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 sweet onion, diced
- 4 stalks celery, rinsed, trimmed and pealed, with leaves reserved
- chop celery leaves
- 2 tbsp capers
- salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Put butter and olive oil in a large skillet and heat on medium high.

2. When oil is sizzling, add chicken and onions. If you like soft celery, add celery now. Otherwise, wait 'til next step. Cook for 3 minutes until chicken is browned.

3. Turn chicken. If you did not add celery in previous step, add now. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes.

4. Add broth, juice, and capers. Simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Dish skilled contents into bowls and garnish with celery leaves.


Easy Chicken Piccata

Piccata or Picatta dishes are of Italian origin. In Italy, the usually involve veal or seafood. In the U.S., chicken is popular.

This easy and delicious recipe is a Giada de Laurentiis recipe that I found on foodnetwork.com. The original recipe serves four. I made some adjustments to make two servings rather than four. Below is my adjusted version.

Ingredients

- Two thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (You can butterfly slice one thick breast if you don't have two thin ones.)
- sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- All-purpose flour for dredging. I put two tablespoons on a plate.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (I used broth.)
- 1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

Directions

Combine the lemon juice, chicken stock, and capers in a small bowl.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 of the 3 tablespoons butter with the olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip the chicken and cook for 3 more minutes.

Add the mixture of lemon juice, chicken stock, and capers to the pan. If there are any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, scrape them and stir them into the sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan. Put the remaining tablespoon of butter into the pan and whisk it into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with parsley.

Super-Easy and Delicious Pork Loin

Pork loin and pork tenderloin are two very different cuts of pork from different parts of the animal. The tenderloin is very narrow in diameter, about 2 inches in diameter; and the loin is wide - about 4 - 5 inches in diameter. I have cooked pork tenderloin many times, but not pork loin. In searching the Internet, I found a tenderloin recipe that sounded really easy, and decided to try it on pork loin. The results were terrific - juicy, moist, and delicious.

I found the original rccipe on allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/176359/easy-marinated-pork-tenderloin/) I made a couple of changes to the original recipe. I:
- used a shallow roasting pan rather than a baking dish,
- used a 24-ounce piece of meat rather than 2 pounds, and
- calculated the cooking time on a per-pound basis rather than giving a 2-pound time. 
The recipe below is my version. It should make three to four servings, although the two of us managed to devour the whole piece.

(The way I ended up with a 24-oz piece of meat was that Publix had a sale and the pork loins on sale were very large. I bought a 6-pound loin and cut it into four equal lengths. I froze the three pieces I didn't use.)


Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp Dijon honey mustard
salt & ground black pepper to taste
24 oz. piece of pork loin

Directions

1. Cut excess fat off the pork loin.

2. Whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Place the meat in a resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour prior to cooking.

3. Preheat oven to 350°.

4. Place the meat in a shallow roasting pan and pour the marinade over the meat.

5. Cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes per pound, until the pork is no longer pink in the center. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145°. I cooked the 24-oz. loin for 45 minutes.