Sunday, August 31, 2008

Swing FM: The Soundtrack to Southern Food

Some might say that I'm obsessed with French radio. I think it's just a coincidence. Every time I find a radio station that I like, it just so happens to be French. I should mention, all of these stations are found on-line. We have a wi-fi radio receiver in our kitchen, that is hooked up to my regualr radio, allowing us to listen to stations from all over the world. For a few years, my favorite has been La Radio De La Mer. Which is still is, but when I'm cooking southern food, I want something a little more suitable. In my quest to find something that had jazz, blues, ragtime, and swing, I came across Swing FM. They play Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Rose Murphy and a fantastic mix of all the above genres with the odd bit of gospel. It provides the perfect soundtrack to eating southern food...

To listed to Swing FM, click on the following link:

Culinary Creations: Fried Green Heaven

Last night, J made one of my favorite things: Fried Green Tomatoes! We also had this for the first time during our trip to Charleston. I don't eat a lot of fried foods, and never would have imagine being so enamored with them. The few places we tried them at all seemed to like serving them in the form of a "BLT". As they seemed to know what they were doing, who could argue? J is now a master at making them, and does so 3-4 times a year. We made them last night, and they made the perfect coupling with the left over peanut soup. When we make them, it is usually just for the two of us. Instead of halving the batter, we've taken to using the extra to make Fried Dill Pickle Chips! As dill pickles are my favorite food, it doesn't get any better than this for me...

* After slicing and and coating the tomatoes, J fries them in a small amount of oil for 3 minutes per side, on a medium-ish heat. The dill pickle chips take around 30 seconds per side. Through trial and error, we've found that Mount Olive's organic chips work best. They are a bit thicker so hold up well to the heat.

*Then drain on paper towels. Ahhh, look at that lovely golden color. I'm salivating!!!

* Paired with African Peanut Soup...

* Up close and personal. Good condiments are the key to completing this meal. For the BLT, I make a mayonnaise/hot sauce mixture. The Dill Pickle Chips are completed with a few dashed of Screamin' Dill Pickle Hot Sauce, that we picked up in Savannah.

Culinary Creations: African Peanut Soup

Two years ago we spent two weeks in Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. I've been to Savannah several times before, so knew what to expect, but this was my first time in Charleston. We were both completely blown away by the food. We've done quite a bit of traveling, and have eaten in some amazing places, but the people of Charleston are truly privileged by what lies on their doorstep. It is my ideal "Food Heaven". After spending the first half of the week in the historical center of Charleston, we headed out to stay at the Inn at Middleton Place. There was a lovely restaurant, where the dining room is in a conservatory type setting, that serve traditional Low Country food with a modern twist. At lunch, they offer a three course meal, in which we chose the Peanut Soup for our first course. That proved to be a good choice, and we ended up having it twice. While the food is good there, it should be noted that they are a "dry county" on Sunday, so no alcohol what so ever. As no one mentioned it to us when making reservations, it was a bit of a surprise. James opted for juice of some sort and I ordered an "Arnold Palmer". Our server informed me that I couldn't have that as they didn't serve lemonade in the evenings... Ok? Anyway, here is a recipe that was similar to the soup we had there.

* Saute one large onion, chopped, in olive oil until just transparent. Then add one pound of chopped potatoes, 3 ribs of chopped celery, 1 chopped red pepper, 1 pound chopped carrots, 1 chopped tomato, 1 clove chopped garlic. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes.

* Next add 3 3/4 cups of vegetable stock, then 7 tbsp of crunchy peanut butter, and 2/3 cups of corn, followed by a few splashes of hot sauce (my recommendation will follow in a different post). You can add as little or much as you like, but I add about 5 splashes, then more after if needed. Mix until peanut butter is blended.

* Then bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Once vegetable are tender, you can use a hand blender to to puree part of the mixture and leave half chunky, or blend all for a smooth soup.

* We decided to puree just half of the soup, then garnished with with chopped, unsalted peanuts. While we really enjoyed it, we did puree the left overs, which we both agreed had a nicer taste.

The Inn at Middleton Place:
Middleton Place:

Hurricane Gustav

This image was taken last night. We were feeling the outer bands of Hurricane Gustav. I have to stress though, it wasn't anything horrible. Just wind and loads of rain, not too unlike our average summer storms. We've gotten more rain from Gustav than we did from Fay, in which our office closed for Fay. The storm has moved a bit further to the west, so while we are still experiencing some wind, we've not had as much rain as was predicted. The storm has now slowed down to 125mph winds, which is still pretty devastating. The good news is New Orleans seem more prepared this time round...

This was taken yesterday, when it pretty much rained all day. It was forecast to rain all day today, but we haven't had too much. It looks like coastal Sarasota has probably seen more rain today. We've just heard that the winds have gone down another 5 miles per hour, fingers crossed for the people in the path that this trend will continue...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Places I Eat: C'est La Vie

~*~ C'est si bon!!! ~*~
1553 Main St.
(941) 906-9575
Breakfast: 7:30 a.m.-noon Monday-Saturday
Lunch: Until 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Bakery: Until 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Gardening: Curry Plant Update

My curry plant is doing well and is getting larger. I haven't transplanted it as I haven't been able to get another one so still haven't decided where I want to put this one.

Last weekend I found a recipe for potato salad using curry plant. I wasn't expecting much as I've heard it isn't really that great for cooking. While it wasn't horrible, it wasn't very good either. It didn't ruin the taste, but there was this strange smokey flavor that I'm sure was from the curry plant. It will definitely be kept for the scent, and not flavoring food.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nigella's Chicken with White Wine and Bacon Sauce

I was inspired by Jane's recent post to make Nigella's Chicken with White Wine and Bacon Sauce. Things were going well until I accidentally evaporated some of the sauce. To make up for it, I did a few variations:
  1. First of all, I had decided to add some garlic, rosemary, and thyme. This was pre-chopped and in a bowl waiting to be added in at the end.
  2. After my sauce had evaporated, I added another large splash of wine.
  3. While it looked good, I felt that it was a little to thin and lacking something... CREAM! As I didn't have any cream, I used a trustworthy stand-by: Cream Cheese. I added one LARGE spoonful of whipped cream cheese and whisked it all together.
  4. I then added the crumbled bacon to the saucepan, stirred, then returned the chicken to coat with the sauce.

It was really good. While it did have a slight yellow tinge, it is nowhere near as yellow as my photo. The color balance was off, and I can't be bothered to Photoshop it. The only complaint we had was the white wine I used. While it was good, it was a very floral/fruity wine and it needed something oakier to balance off the bacon. I used Ménage à Trois White, which would have been good without the bacon and with tarragon.

Here are a few things I might try adding in the future:

  • Mushrooms
  • Leeks
  • Mustard
  • Tarragon

As for the Butternut Squash (and this is more of a reminder for myself), I cooked it per the instructions in Nigella Express, only coating it in olive oil and then sprinkling it with sea salt, rosemary, thyme, and hot pepper flakes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Drinks I Love: St Germain Elderflower Liquor

This stuff is heaven! I was first introduced to it from an article in Food & Wine Magazine. We found it in England, but our suitcases were too full to bring any back. Our fantastic local liquor store, Norman's, were able to order it for us. I have to say I was not disappointed.

If you've never tasted elderflower before, it has a nice light flavor and is paired with lemon to give it a slight tart taste. St. Germain's website has a fantastic description: Neither peach nor pear, lychee nor citrus, the sublime taste of St-Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a hummingbird to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Trés curieux indeed, n'est-ce pas?

While living in England, I used to drink elderflower cordial and presse all the time. It is the most refreshing drink on a hot day. Elderflower Cordial is a soft drink made largely from a sugar and water solution and uses the flowers of the elderflower. The most popular companies that I'm aware of that make elderflower cordial and presse are Bottle Green Company, Belvoir, and Duchy Originals (set up by Charles, Prince of Wales).

As it's hard for me to get Elderflower Cordial here, I'm elated to have Elderflower Liquor. Not only does St. Germain have a blissful taste, it also comes in this sublime bottle! I don't know which I like more. So far, and you can tell I've had just a few tastings (ha, ha), my favorite way to drink it is with ginger ale. Though it's not bad in a Gin & Tonic either. Their website is full of good drink recipes, but we've had fun experimenting with our own. Each bottle is also individually numbered with the year in which it was bottled, along with the number of the bottling order. This has definitely become a staple in our bar. It comes from France and is made of Elderflowers hand picked in the Alps. We will be on our way to the French Alps in just over a month, fingers crossed that I will be inundated with all things elderflower!!!

You can actually make Elderflower Cordial. Here is a link to a recipe, along with a few serving suggestions:

To view St. Germain's website, please click the following link:

Gardening: My Bougainvillea

This bougainvillea is outside my kitchen window. It requires little attention and is absolutely amazing. We fertilize it two or three times a year, it is drought tolerant and is almost always in bloom. Our house is very close to our neighbor's, so it also gives us some privacy. We've let it grow larger than we've had it in the past, first due to the fact that there was a bird nesting, but then we just couldn't bring ourselves to make it any shorter. We've had two different neighbors next door and they both have said how they probably get to enjoy it more because they're looking at the front when their blinds are open. So to sum it up: beauty, privacy, drought tolerant and shelter for the birds, what a lot in return for such little effort!

Gardening: Some of My Roses

This bush is on the side of my house and is probably my fullest bush. It blooms in clusters, which are absolutely gorgeous when cut and in my favorite vintage mustard jar with a sprig of rosemary.
This is on the side of my house, which is the best place for my roses as it get the most sun. It requires little maintenance, and produces these large, lovely scented, vividly-colored roses.
This is one of my favorites and grows like crazy. The scent isn't very strong, but it is a very bushy, hardy plant.

Sadly, this one is gone. It had the strongest, most divine scent.

This one took it's place, but isn't doing too well at the moment. J trimmed it down last weekend and we're giving it lots of TLC. Watch this space...

Culinary Creations: Goulash for Grown-Ups

OK, this isn't in fact Goulash at all, but if you were a kid in America, in your reality, it was. I suppose Beef & Macaroni would be a more appropriate name. That's exactly what the version I found in the freezer section of Whole Foods was called. For $2.99, they sell an organic version that is pretty good. The pasta is perfectly al dente, even after 3 minutes in the microwave. While this was a perfectly acceptable version of the childhood classic, and a good option for lunch, I decided to set out to make my own. It has been around 10 years since I’ve made this (I think the last time was when I was living in Wymondham around ’98), so I decided to make an adult version. It’s basically the same standard recipe everyone knows, with a few additions. Here is what I came up with:
  • 1 pound ground beef (or buffalo, turkey, vegetarian crumbles)
  • ½ Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • ½ green pepper, chopped
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • Dash of dried oregano
  • Dash of dried thyme
  • 1 can (14 ½ oz) of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 6 oz red wine
  • 1 tbsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni

1. Cook macaroni according to box.

2. Brown the ground beef on medium heat.

3. Before beef is completely brown, add the garlic, onion, carrot, green pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, oregano, and thyme. Continue to cook over medium heat until vegetables are softened.
4. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, red wine, Worcester sauce and gently simmer for at least ½ hour on low heat.5. Slowly stir in cooked macaroni, allowing the sauce to fill the pasta tubes. Allow to simmer 5 minutes on low.

6. To finish off, once in serving bowls, garnish with a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped basil.

Serves 4.

The results weren't bad. I used buffalo instead of beef, and really welcomed the addition of red wine. Also, I had forgotten to buy a green pepper, so had to use red. In addition to the herbs mentioned, I added a little fresh rosemary. While you could serve it with crusty garlic bread and salad for dinner, mine is going into little containers for my lunch this week. It has been raining here for weeks, so this will make the perfect stay-in-the-office lunch time treat.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Drinks I Love: Is it Pimm's O'Clock?

During the past two years at the Highland Games, one of the highlights of the Sarasota British Club's tent was my version of Pimm's Cup. Not including our board, we caught a few attendees coming back for more!!! One lady in particular came back so many times that I ended up giving her just ginger ale with bits of cucumber and mint.

Pimm's No.1 is a Gin based beverage that is the color of tea and has a citrus/spice flavor. It is a popular summer drink in England, famously served at Wimbledon and the Henley Regatta, giving it the reputation of being an upper class drink. Fortunately, you don't have to be in England or even a member of the upper class to enjoy Pimm's. In the US, Pimm's No. 1 can be found at most larger liquor stores. (In the SRQ area, I've found it at Norman's, ABC, the Bottle Shop on St. Armand's, and Coastal Liquors)

Sprite or 7-up is traditionally used in the UK, however, I think it is much nicer with Ginger Ale. It is absolutely divine with Jamaican Ginger Beer. I made it for an event tonight featuring local celebrity, Cliff Roles, and had many compliments.

Here is my version of the summer time classic:
  • Mix together in large pitcher 1 part Pimm's No. 1 with 3 parts Ginger Ale.
  • Add to each glass 1 slice of orange, 2 slices of strawberry, 1 slice of halved cucumber and 1 sprig of mint.
  • Add a little ice to each glass and top up with Pimms mixture.
  • Enjoy, but be careful – it can catch up with you!

Here are the links to the official websites of Pimm's and Cliff Roles:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Uber Gnome

Hallo Jane,
Bitte kommen sie besuch mich in Florida!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Creatures in My Garden: Wasp Spider

Last Sunday, J was outside doing some gardening and called for me to have a look at this spider. You can imagine my reaction... my heart jumped up into my throat! Of course your initial reaction is that it must go, but I decided to do some research on-line. After searching, we both agreed that we thought it was an Argiope bruennichi, or wasp spider. While it does look like your worst nightmare, it appears that they are non poisonous to humans. This is the side effect of not using harsh chemicals in gardening, we get all the beasties. Which is also a good thing, this fierce looking creature will help keep down the population on some of our unwanted pests.

The following Monday, on my way home from work, there was a story on NPR about Charlotte's Web. When I was little, I loved the film, but only saw it once due to the fact that I was inconsolabe at the end when Charlotte dies. The NPR program got me thinking: why wasn't I afraid of the cartoon Charlotte? Would I have been afraid of her or so upset if she hadn't been so witty, elegant, and loyal? To this day I've yet to read the book or watch the updated live action version, despite knowing one of the animators of Templeton. After listening to this though, it made me curios to read it, and see Charlotte through an adult's eyes.

And thanks to my outside guest, my garden will be without (in the words of Charlotte A. Cavatica) "flies, bugs, grasshoppers, choice beetles, moths, butterflies, tasty cockroaches, gnats, midges, daddy longlegs, centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets — anything that's careless enough to get caught in my web."

Here is the link to that story on NPR:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Culinary Creations: Beans on Toast

With the left over bacon from Saturday's Full Breakfast, I decided to do an updated version of a British classic: Beans on Toast. I used the traditional can of Heinz Baked Beans, but added a pinch of Coleman's Dry Mustard, a pinch of dried thyme, and the left over rasher of bacon, then let them simmer gently for 15 minutes to meld the flavors. The result was divine!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gardening: Luna Red Hibiscus

A couple of weeks ago we stopped at a local garden center to look at edging borders and came out with this... I was so taken by the flowers, the color is so vivid and the blooms open up to a flat 7" to 8" diameter. Growing up in Florida, I always hated hibiscus, what was I thinking?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

They've Dropped the "Baked" from Beans

Heinz Baked Beans are an institution in the UK, so much so, that there are people under the age of 35 in the UK that think that Heinz is a British company*. I have to give them credit, the version in the UK is much more appealing to my taste buds and is not as sweet as most of the varieties of baked beans available in the US. But was a 21st century makeover really necessary? While the cans we bought this weekend aren't the completely newly designed version, they most definitely didn't say "Baked".

Here is a link to the Daily Mail's story on the name change:

* My fabulous friend Jane in Shipston-on-Stour said that even though she knows that Heinz is an American company, she still chooses to see it as British. And so she should: it is much more of a culinary staple over there than it is over here.

I Heart Local Produce

Recently, I was introduced to a local organic market that has been around since the '70s. They operate on 5 acres of land and are located next to a golf course, in the center of a suburb. Although this isn't exactly where you'd expect to find a working organic farm, I'm certainly glad they are there. Here is a sample of some of my favorite finds: the carrots are imported (Bunny Love) but the radishes are locally grown as well is the divinely green celery. We've paired it with a baguette from our local French bakery and some Applewood Smoked cheese that Target have started carrying. This was an amazing find is it is one of my favorite cheeses in England, which means I no longer have to consume my body weight in the stuff while over there.

Here is the link for my favorite local organic market:


Alfie and Archie

Gardening: Herb Garden

Here is a look at the beginning of my herb trough. In this photo, I've got Lemon Thyme and Basil, along with my Curry plant that is waiting to be transplanted. Yesterday afternoon, I also added an anemic looking Dill plant and transplanted some Chives. I'm not expecting either of those to survive, but fingers crossed. You will also notice Alfie and Archie, who stand guard over the herbs.

Culinary Creations: Full English Breakfast

Once a year we have a Full English Breakfast. This year, however, we had a slight variation. On Friday, we had met some friends at a new local pancake house and each left with a potato pancake. We decided to include them with our breakfast, and omit the eggs, which I don't eat anyways. J picked up some English Style Sausages from the local Pasty Company and I got Irish Bacon from a local import shop. After realizing I had forgotten the Baked Beans (shock, horror) I made a quick run to the local supermarket's "ethnic" section. We topped it off with Fried Mushrooms and Grilled Tomatoes. Yum! Until next year...

Check out Wikipedia for more info on the Full Breakfast:

Gardening: The Alluring Curry Plant

From the spring of 1997 until the end of summer 1998, I lived in Wymondham (pronounced "windem"), England. Wymondham is a little town just outside of Norwich, Norfolk. We lived in a lovely flint stone terrace cottage in the center of town. It was heaven, we had Thai, Indian, chip shop, corner shop, bakery (2 actually) and a video shop all in walking distance. During the summer we were inundated with the smells of Thai and Indian food. The Thai place was parallel to our back garden, so we could smell them cooking out their back door. Although the Thai place was closer, we always had a stronger scent of Indian food. That was until one day when our land lady, Brigid, informed us that the scent was actually from a curry plant that was just outside the kitchen window.

It looks a lot like lavender, with blossoms that resemble dill. The one we had in England was fairly large. The smell was so intoxicating, it really does smell like curry! When you cut it, like most things, the smell is even stronger. It doesn't taste at all like curry, which is a little deceiving. But still, to have something smell so divine, I'm not complaining.

Recently, my mother and I were down town at the Farms' Market and decided to pop into Whole Foods, where I was greeted by that familiar smell. It is the first time since Wymonham that I had seen one! (Though my mom said that Gordon Ramsey was on Martha, cooking fish with curry plant) It was still small when I brought it home, so we decided to leave it in the container to allow it to grow a bit before transplanting it. It is still in the original container, and we're having a dilemma of where to plant it. We've really enjoyed having it in the lanai, but my current container is just too small (and crowded with thyme, dill, basil and chives), so I'm thinking of planting it just outside of the lanai. I've got loads of room in the rosemary planter, but it's too far away from the area where we spend the most amount of time. Whole Foods are going to try to order another one so I can plant one where originally intended, and one on the other side to completely fill the lanai with whiff of curry. Hope the neighbors don't mind!!!
Here is a link for more information on Wymondham: