Friday, September 26, 2008

Bon Voyage!!!

We're off tomorrow morning to two weeks in France! I'll have my lap top, but not sure if I'll have Internet connection, so may not post again until after October 12th. If I can, I will post updates from my trip, but if not, please check back mid October. Not only will I feature photos and fantastic food from my trip, I will also be featuring my very good friend Emily M and her Hot Havana Mama Ropa Vieja, mojitos, and flan. The Cuban diva herself will be sharing some of her authentic Cuban recipes. We will be joined by some of my craziest, closest friends.

Good luck to Gloria and her MBA mid terms! The Cuban extravaganza will be hosted in her lovely kitchen, with my favorite pooch, HASHI!!!

Also a HUGE thank you to my mom, who will be taking care of my Harry while we're away. The claws are clipped, the cupboard is stocked, the scratch box is in the window, and his nest is made in the closet.
See you all soon!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Culinary Creations: Pesto Pork

My mom came over Sunday night for a pre-thank you dinner since she will be taking care of Harry while we are away. We wanted to keep it nice and simple so opted to do a pesto (or pistou since we're going to France) coated pork tenderloin.
This is super easy to do. I had half of a jar of pesto left over from the Layered up Chicken and Roasted Vegetables. I like cooking with jarred pesto as it has a stronger flavor (i.e. more salt & garlic), than the refrigerated pesto, which makes it not so desirable on pasta itself. With the pesto, I also added in some Herbs de Provence, then coated the tenderloin and let sit for 30 minutes. After, I baked at 350F for 45 minutes.

The results were divine. The pork was nice and tender and had such a good flavor. My house smelt absolutely divine! As we were keeping it simple, we served it with salad, olives, Boursin cheese, and a French baguette.

We sliced the tomato, added some chopped basil, lemon thyme, and chives - then drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled a bit of Maldon sea salt.

The rest sort of speaks for itself. My Classic French Vinaigrette made another appearance, this time in the form of the pesto jar. The baguette is actually an import from France that I get from my local supermarket's freezer section. It is a nice staple to keep on hand, takes under 10 minutes to bake, and it as close to Paris as you can get in Florida. We threw in some nice French mustard, a bottle of rose, and felt like we were ready for Provence!

Food Memory: Salcombe Coffee Company

One of my favorite places in England is Salcombe. Salcombe is a lovely Victorian town on the East coast of Devon. This photo was taken on a cold and drizzly morning. It is of the harbor looking towards Kingsbridge.

The last time we were there, we opted out of the breakfast included with our stay at our B&B and ate at the Salcombe Coffee Company. This was a very good decision. Not only did they have great coffee, I was partial to the cafe mocha - which was made of nice strong coffee and rich dark chocolate, their breakfast menu was superb. Their bacon sandwiches were the best I've ever had, and I will go as far to say that they are the best in the world. They use good quality smoky bacon rashers, thick cut multi-grain bread toasted to perfection, and enough brown sauce to keep a smile on my face. Sadly I didn't get an photos of this blissful sandwich, but it's reason enough to go back.

Salcombe Coffee Company
Fore Street, Salcombe
Telephone: 01548 842319
For more information on Salcombe, please click the following link:

Creatures in My Garden: Toad or Frog

Is it a toad or a frog? I'm not really sure but it was on my glass door. It was very tiny and I loved it's little toes...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dancing with the Stars: For Jane

This isn't going to be a normal forum for TV reviews, but since it's the debut week in both countries, I just couldn't pass it up.

Jane, how was Strictly Come Dancing?

Well, this year I was a little in the dark with some of our "stars". It was nice to see Jefferson from Married with Children, Lance Bass was actually good, and Susan Lucci looked like she needed a sandwich - STAT!!! Susan - may I recommend any of the recipes from my blog!

One addition that was very welcomed was Lacy from So You Think You Can Dance. While she isn't as traditional as the other pros's, she will make an interesting change.

As always, it's nice to have Len and Bruno at it, and you just can't beat Tom Bergeron.

All-in-all, yay that it's back, but at this point, no obvious favorite.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Culinary Creations: Easy Leek & Cheese Topped Cottage Pie

This is my "cheat" version of cottage pie. Cottage pie is the correct name for this dish when using beef. Even though it is commonly know as "shepherd's pie", shepherd's pie is actually the name of this dish when using lamb. Which ever you call it, it is a very comforting dish. While I try not to use packets too often, there are just some nights when it's inevitable. Most of the ingredients for this dish are staples in my cupboard, with the mince in my freezer, making it an impromptu dish. Some time in the next few months I will post my "100% from scratch recipe".

I first start by browning 1 pound of mince beef or buffalo, with a good pinch of dried thyme. Once most of the pink is gone, I add in some chopped onion and carrot.

Next comes the packet of Coleman's Shepherd's Pie mix. I'm not only partial to Coleman's because I used to live in Norwich, I really do think their mixes are top notch. My local supermarket even carries it so I don't have to rely on stocking up in the UK or scouting out an import shop. Once you mix in packet, add 100ml of red wine, 200 ml of water, and if you are so inclined, two chopped slices of cooked bacon. This is also when I rely on my cupboard staples where I keep a small supply of dried vegetables. From that I added some dried celery, corn, and peas. Gently simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Once simmered, put into baking dish and top with mashed potato. Now, I did say this was impromptu. Instead of running to the supermarket for potatoes, I also have organic dried potato flakes in my cupboard. While I wouldn't serve this to company, it's a good solution for when its just us. I will say that I use a good quality butter (mostly Kerrygold Garlic & Herb Butter) and I always add fresh herbs. In this photo I used chives, rosemary, and thyme. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F.

This step was inspired by another Norwich legend: Delia Smith. After baking for 15 minutes, take out and top with 1 leek, sliced, then top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until bubbling.

Here is what it should look like when finished.

Enjoy! Some may turn their nose up at the use of packets and dried ingredients, but i think it beats the heck out of over processed frozen meals!


  • If you can't find Coleman's mix, any sort of beef, mushroom, onion, or brown gravy will do.
  • For a vegetarian version, use meat free gravy and lentils and mushrooms instead of mince. Or even vegetarian crumbles.
  • If you make this in advance, I would wait until the day of serving to add the potatoes, then follow instructions from that point on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Creatures in My Garden: Lizards

First I'd like to introduce Harry. Resident feline, lover of sunshine, and all around super star. Harry loves being out on the lanai. He is in his element watching lizards, soaking up the sun, and having a good nosey look at what the neighbors are up to. He loves spending most of his time out there, that is at least until the temperature dips below 70 degrees Fahrenheit or it starts to rain.
Then there are the lizards, or Anolis sagrei sagrei - Cuban Brown Anoles to be precise:

They are everywhere... the first one is on my bathroom window, trying to find a way inside. The second one is on the door going out to my lanai. He wasn't a very lucky lizard, as part of his tail was missing. This isn't critical as a lizard's tail is able to break off to escape an attack, then will slowly regrow. This guy was unfortunate as the breaking point was pretty high up. Many lizards around our house are sporting shorter tails, thanks to Harry. That is another, if not his most favorite past time: catching lizards!

A few weeks ago, we witnessed a first: Harry went in for a lizard, only to have the lizard bite him back! He dropped it and ran towards to house to sit and cower. Their teeth are so small and can't do any damage, so Harry was suffering more from a bruised ego. Who could blame him? They can be very intimidating:

First you see them and the look as if they are smiling... then they start doing push-ups and their dewlaps come out! This was more than enough to scare me off!

Places I Eat: Michelangelo

For years friends have been telling me about this Italian restaurant that is really close to where I live. Several friends have said it is the only place that they will get pizza from, and yet we never tried it. A couple of months ago, J forgot to pick up our favorite pizza from another place in Sarasota that we were planning on having with champagne for the finale of one of our favorite shows. Well, when J came home empty handed, I grabbed Michelangelo's menu, and am very glad i did! Not only did the have a version of the pizza that we didn't order that night, we think that it may actually even be better! It is a ricotta and spinach pizza with lovely cloves of roasted garlic. We add bacon, and sometimes I like to get tomato on half. Add some red pepper flakes and it's pretty close to perfection.

My first experience there wasn't complete bliss. When I called to order and asked for a spinach pizza, as it's called on the menu, it was returned with, "you mean gourmet pie?". I felt like answering in a language that she could understand: "no, i mean a friggin' gourmet pizza as it's called on your menu", but I could never be so crude to a stranger... so I opted to kill with kindness, "of course, how silly of me to call it that, please forgive my mistake". Come on, take a look at the close up... could you really pass on something this good over the rudeness of someone over the phone. They do hail from Long Island, so you are getting the full on NY experience. To be fair, we've eaten there several times and she's softened up, so maybe she was just having a bad day. However, in this economy, you think that everyone in the public sector would be as nice as can be. Or am I just delusional?

Michelangelo of Long Island! Pizzeria &Italian Restaurant: Lakewood Ranch

Lakewood Ranch Blvd. & State Road 70

Phone: (941) 739-5656

Open Everyday 11-10

France: One Week and Counting!

A week from today we leave for two weeks in France! It has been over 8 years since I was last there, and I am so excited!!! I've had my phrase book out, have been brushing up and am ready to go!

The first week we will be staying in an alpine-style house in the Alps. Here are the front and back views of where I will call home for a week:

The second week we will be in Provence. Here are a few glimpses of my temporary abode...

Culinary Creations: Classic French Vinaigrette

One of my favorite things to eat is a nice, simple salad. It doesn't have to be packed full of meats and cheeses to get my attention. You just can't beat the natural flavors of mixed baby greens with the addition of whole basil leaves, parsley and dill, topped with a simple vinaigrette.

My favorite vinaigrette couldn't be easier to make: you only need an old jar, mustard or jam jars are the perfect size. What I like best is that it doesn't have a long list of ingredients like supermarket salad dressings. Most of which you have no idea what they even are.

This is my version of the Classic French Vinaigrette:
  • 1 part vinegar (white wine vinegar is my staple, but red wine vinegar is fine)
  • 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 generous tsp of Dijon mustard (Maille is divine)
  • pinch or 2 of salt and sugar, to taste.

Now for the hard part: put them all in a jar, screw the lid on, and shake until they are all mixed together.

This is also my favorite accompaniment to a nicely steamed artichoke. Add a glass of Sancerre to achieve pure bliss!

Here are some variations:

  • You could use balsamic vinegar instead, but omit the extra sugar.
  • 1 tsp of dried Herbs de Provence
  • 1 tbsp of chopped fresh herbs
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • 1 small shallot, chopped

The list could go on and on. It is the perfect base for a salad dressing, and is only as limited as your imagination...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Left Overs: Layer Up Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

We had quite a bit left over that night. While this doesn't look much, it spread to fill a good size of the dish. The next night, I mixed the sauce, vegetables & cheese crust, then mixed some panko bread crumbs with more cheese (I know!), chopped parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Once covered with the bread crumb mixture, I baked at 325F for 1/2 hours. The left overs were as enjoyable as the first time around!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Culinary Creations: Layered up Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

This recipe comes from my mother-in-law, and is one of my favorite things she makes. It's sort of like a pasta-free lasagna. Ingredients:
  • 1 medium chicken, cooked (you can boil, roast, or buy pre-cooked - I like to use store bought rotisserie)
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 lb butternut squash
  • 3 red peppers
  • 1 large aubergine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp good quality fresh pesto
  • 1.5 oz each butter & flour
  • 1 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp English mustard
  • 8oz Gruyere (or Cheddar) cheese

Preheat oven to 450F. Chop onions, squash, peppers & aubergine. Put vegetables into large roasting tin, drizzle with oil & roast for 30-45 minutes until tender. I usually do 30 minutes, as it will cook for another half hour, and I like the vegetables to retain more of their shape.

Stir in pesto. Put veg mixture into a 2 litre (3.5 pint) ovenproof dish & arrange chicken on top.

Make a cheese sauce by putting the butter, flour & milk into a pan, then bringing to boil slowly, whisking. Stir in mustard. Simmer for 1 minute, until thickened. Grate the cheese. Take sauce off heat & add all but a handful of the cheese.

Pour sauce over chicken, sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Turn oven down to 350F. Put dish on a baking sheet & cook for 30-45 minutes, until bubbling & golden.

Serve with baguette and green salad. (Serves 6)


  • When making this, I didn't have 3 peppers, so used 1 pepper, 1 zucchini, and 1 yellow squash. You really could use anything that you have on hand, or substitute what you like.
  • For a vegetarian version, substitute chicken with mushrooms. Artichokes would also go nicely in this dish. I would recommend using Lemon Thyme if making this with artichokes.
  • I only had 1/2 pint of milk, so had to use 1/4 pint of whipping cream and 1/4 pint of half & half to make the pint. My method of measuring a pint: one of James's authentic pub pint glasses. This combination created a much thicker sauce, which was very nice and I would recommend if you want something richer, but I think next time I will make sure that I have enough milk.

Cooking with Friends: Cookin' Kuchen

My Aunt Barb, also known as Aunt Bubba due to my inability to say Barbara when I was first starting to talk, makes the best kuchen I've ever had. She was taught by her mother-in-law, who was from Germany. Though it can be made with any fruit, Plum Kuchen is my favorite. Last Tuesday night she had my mom and I over for dinner. After a nice roast chicken dinner that my mom had brought, we were treated to the pièce de résistance, a plum and apple kuchen. Here is a piece of full on plum glory, topped by fresh whipped cream...

If you're not familiar with kuchen, the word "Kuchen" itself is the German word for cake. The base of my Aunt's kuchen is cake based, as seen in the photo below, topped with a layer of fruit, then streusel topping. You'll notice the apple in this photo in the right side of the kuchen, she made one end of apple, which is James' favorite. RECIPE:

~ For the Base:

  • 1 cup flour

  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1/4 cup shortening

  • 1 egg

  • 1/4 cup milk

    ~ 3 cups (or more) of fruit

    ~ For Streusel Topping:

    • 1 cup flour

    • 1/2 cup sugar

    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

    • 1/8 tsp salt

    Base: Sift together flour, baking powder, and 1 tbsp sugar. Cut in the shortening. Stir in combined egg and milk with a fork. Spread into a greased 10"x6"x2" pan. Brush with 2 tbsp melted butter. Arrange fruit on top. Cover with streusel mixture. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until fruit is tender. Cool to eat.

    It is so good that you are guarantee with these results...

    Creatures in My Garden: Toads

    During the summer, we are inundated with toads. We've had several this summer, but this guy seems to keep coming back. Of course if could be different toads that look the same, but we're convinced this is the same toad. For two weeks straight we have been scooping him from our pool or removing him from the lanai. Despite the chlorine, he seems to like swimming in our pool. I've named him "Hammer Time" as when he's decided that he's had enough and wants to go back outside, he ends up on the track next to the screen. He starts trying the climb the screen for a way out, as seen above, but after a while he gives up and does this little sideways, back and forth dance reminiscent of MC Hammer in the "You Can't Touch This" video. That's when I give in, feeling sorry for the little guy and will put him outside. Or I should say have J do it. I've tried a few times unsuccessfully, but he seems to jump right on the net when J goes to remove him. We have two doors into our lanai, one that has a rubber barrier under the door to stop beasties from coming in, and the other with the barrier missing. The other weekend J put him outside of the door that did have a barrier, and we've not seen him since then. This could be down to the barrier, or the heron that's been stalking around here...

    Gardening: Birds of Paradise

    In my neighborhood, the houses are so close together that you can carry on a conversation with the next door neighbor while you're both sitting at your own kitchen tables. This really doesn't bother me, apart for my back yard. When I'm out in my lanai or pool, I'd like to have total privacy. A year or so after moving in we started planting things around the lanai that would grow tall and thick enough to give us some privacy.

    You can see in this photo how close the neighbor's lanai is. At one point, there is only about a foot of land separating them. We wanted something that would be drought tolerant, giving us a tropical feel so we planted two white Birds of Paradise on the corners with a Rubber Tree in between. In the course of about 6 months, they shot up to almost the height you see in this photo.

    Here is a close up of the combination. We liked it so much that we've planted the same arrangement on the other corner of the lanai. It doesn't get as much sun as the other side, so is slower growing.
    Here are a few "Birds" getting ready to bloom.

    Here is one that is blooming. We didn't have any blooms at all the first two years that we had them, and this year it really seems to be taking off.

    This is a shot of regular Bird of Paradise that we have. It doesn't get as tall as the white ones, but we love the colors.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Culinary Creations: Baked Chicken Alfredo with Bacon and Mushrooms

    This wasn't exactly the most original thing I've ever made, but it was a good use of things I had in my kitchen: Jar of Alfredo Sauce, Mushrooms, Bacon, and Chicken.

    I started off by sauteing the bacon. Once bacon was finished and removed, I then cooked the mushrooms in the left over bacon fat and a little bit of olive oil. Next I added the chicken pieces (I was using tenderloin cutlets), scattered the bacon over the chicken, poured the jar of sauce over the mixture, along with 1/2 cup of white wine. This was baked in my oven, uncovered, at 350F for 35 minutes. After cooking, I garnished with small basil leaves that were left-over from the basil I used in the salad.

    To serve, I had a bowl of cooked plain, corkscrew pasta to spoon the sauce over.

    I also made a simple salad of lettuce and fresh basil leaves from my garden, dressed with my homemade vinaigrette. Please note my uber fancy jar. Yes, that is an authentic Branston Pickle jar. Unfortunately even after 4 washings, it still retained some of the pickle smell, which slightly altered the taste of the dressing. Not sure if you could tell if you didn't know, but I could...

    Culinary Creations: Jerk Pork

    Jerk chicken or pork is one of my favorite foods. There was a Jamaican BBQ restaurant in Sarasota that had the best Jerk Chicken. Sadly they closed, leaving me on the quest of trying to come up with something nearly as nice as what they served. While I'm not quite there yet, this version isn't bad. I take a "Boston Butt Roast" (i know, not very appetizing) and marinate* it over night. When ready to cook, I put chopped onion, celery, and sometimes carrots in my slow cooker, and heat on low for 30 minutes. While the slow cooker is heating, take out the marinated pork, allowing it to come to room temperature.

    ~ When ready to cook, place in the slow cooker, fat side up. Score fat and stuff with garlic cloves, thyme, and rosemary.

    ~ Place the lid on the slow cooker and allow to cook for 6-8 hours. Usually around 6 hours I will check with a fork. If it starts falling apart, it is done.

    ~ Remove pork to plate, allowing to cool 15-20 minutes. Remove 1 cup of the liquid, leaving the rest in the slow cooker. Using fork and knife, pull pork apart. Return meat to the cooking liquid in the slow cooker. Stir well allowing meat to absorb liquid. At this point, you can do one of two things**: either add some dry jerk seasoning to flavor - or if you have a liquid jerk sauce (maybe even a jerk BBQ sauce), add to taste. Turn slow cooker to "keep warm" allowing flavors to meld.

    ~ I usually like to serve with rice, either Zatarain's Caribbean Rice or Black Eye Peas and Rice. On this occasion I went with Zatarain's. I used the one cup of the cooking liquid from the pork and cooked the rice per box instructions, adding chopped carrots, celery, and peas.

    * Busha Browne's Spicy Jerk Sauce is my favorite jerk marinade. If you find it too vinegary, use the paste. If the paste is too spicy for your liking, mix with Greek yogurt to taste.

    ** I used a dry jerk seasoning and then served with South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce. My favorite liquid sauce is Levi Root's Reggae Reggae Jerk Sauce, which I believe is only available in the UK and Ireland at this time. It is absolute bliss when I can get my hands on a bottle of the stuff! Another good jerk BBQ sauce is Walkerswood Spicy Jamaican Jerk Barbecue Sauce, which is readily available in the US, well, Florida at least.

    For more info on Levi Roots and his sublime sauce, please click the following link:

    For more info on Walkerswood's luscious products, please click the following link: