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.

- 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

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.

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

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. 

- 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

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.