Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sunset Picnic at the Beach

One of my favorite places to eat in Sarasota is at the beach, about an hour before sunset. As a local, this is something I don't do often enough. There are so many places to dine in Sarasota, but there is something about a picnic on the beach that just can't be beat.

When we don't make our own food, we like to pop in to Morton's Gourmet Market on Osprey Avenue to pick up some of their lovely prepared foods. To complete it, you only need a couple of chairs or a blanket, a bottle of wine (keep in mind that glass is banned on the beach), and a nice spot on the beach to sit back and enjoy the view.

Sietsa Key Beach (voted Travel Channel's "America's Best Beach 2003") is the most popular in the area, but Lido Beach is closer to our house, and less crowded, making it the ideal spot for a picnic.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Culinary Creations: Blueberry Preserves with a Hint of Lavender

Calling this a recipe would be a slight exaggeration. This is more of an alteration. A few years back I had the blissful Cottage Delight Wild Blueberry Preserve with a hint of Lavender, in its charming square kilner jar*. Not able to easily get it in the US, I was determined to make my own... sort of. My quick version is to take a jar of blueberry preserves, my favorite being Bonne Maman and add lavender. When I have used about a tablespoon of preserves, to give room to stir in the jar, I add about 1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon of dried organic lavender flowers. When mixed well, I left sit in the refrigerator for a week to let the flavors meld. It makes the most amazing treat to have on scones with clotted cream, toast, or in my case - with peanut butter on waffles. If you've never tried lavender in food before and are a little nervous, start with a small amount to see how you like it. You can always add more if you like the taste and want it a bit stronger.

*For the past 4 years, the kilner jar has served as the perfect container for my Maldon salt. It is my absolute, most favorite container in the kitchen.

Product Review: Geeta's Pudina Tikka Spice & Stir

At long last - I have found the most amazing jarred Indian sauce. Geeta's Pudina Tikka Spice & Stir was a mild creamy tomato sauce with mint (pudina) and coriander, seasoned with paprika, cumin and cardamom.I was interested when I first saw this sauce as it had a separate container on the top with spices. First you lightly saute your meet, chicken, seafood, or vegetables - then add the dry spices. We used chicken and it was amazing. After adding the spices and cooking a few minutes longer, I added the sauce and cooked over low heat for a half hour. It has such a nice, fresh flavor due to the fact that there aren't a bunch of scientific terms in the ingredients list. You could actually identify what went in to the jar - and the spices were perfectly balanced to create an authentic Indian dish. Authentic to English standards, I should add. The best Indian food I've ever had has been in England, where it is hugely popular and Geeta's products are imported from the UK.This made an amazingly easy mid-week meal served with curried lentils, Indian Spiced Kale and Tomatoes, and a nice refreshing Hendrick's Cucumber Gin and Tonic to cool our taste buds.

As we've only seen Geeta's products at World Market, we'll have to wait until our next trip to Jacksonville to stock up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Eat Bugs When You Can Drink Flowers?

While living in England, elderflower cordial and presse were my most favorite non-alcoholic beverage discovery. 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. Presse is the pre-mixed, bottled version made with sparkling water. The most popular companies that I'm aware of that make elderflower cordial and presse are Bottle Green Company, Belvoir Fruit Farms, and Duchy Originals (set up by Charles, Prince of Wales).

My heart was filled with gladness when I spotted Belvoir Elderflower Presse in World Market for $3.99!!! This was super exciting as we had just found it at a newer local market for $6.99 (shame on them!). It got even better as when we went to pay it came up as $3 - on sale. I heart World Market!!!
I love floral flavored foods and drinks, but Elderflower has a much more subtle flavor than rose, violet, and lavender products. It's like sunshine in a bottle.
If it says it in the bottle, it must be true...
... then you look at the ingredients, and it is indeed 100% good!
You can actually make Elderflower Cordial. Here is a link to a recipe, along with a few serving suggestions:

Gratuitous Cat Post, With Some Gardening Thrown In

Here it is, it was bound to happen sooner or later: the gratuitous shot of Harry. When I'm not in the kitchen and the weather is nice, I love nothing more than to sit out by the pool, reading a book with a glass of wine, accompanied by my faithful companion. My curry plant is doing really well. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually looking forward to some of our humidity coming back, as when it's humid it carries the smell of the curry plant farther. James bought a huge rosemary for me in November. I'm keeping it in the lanai for the time being as we're still getting the odd burst of freezing cold weather, but once we get passed that, it will have a permanent place with my roses.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Product Review: World Market's Dal Mughlai Curry (Lentils)

Whenever I'm in Jacksonville, after seeing my dad and step-mom, my next "Must See" is World Market in Orange Park. If you're not familiar with World Market, it's sort of like an old school Pier 1 with loads in international foods and a nice wine selection. Apart from getting to my dad's house, World Market is the only place in Jacksonville I really know how to get to. My dad is always sweet enough to take me there, and patient enough to spend as long as I need to take in all the good stuff. As I am a huge fan of Indian food, I was elated to discover their own brand Curried Mixed Lentils. They are under $3 a can, and are really quite tasty. Actually imported from India, I like to think I'm getting a truly authentic product.

As they are mildly spiced, I like to add a little chili flakes when heating. I also like to add some tomato, and found this the perfect use for the rest of the can that I didn't use when making the Indian Spiced Kale and Tomatoes.
They make the perfect accompaniment to any Indian meal, are vegetarian - if you are so inclined, and are really good value. Now if only they would open a Wold Market in my area! I've been e-mailing their corporate office regularly suggesting they consider our area and figure one of two things will happen: they will promptly open once the economy picks up, or are considering a restraining order for harassment. I hope its the first option, as this could seriously become a very enjoyable habit.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Favorite Way to Start the Weekend in Sarasota: C'est la Vie Followed By The Search For Local Produce

The weekend before last my mom phoned me to ask if I wanted to do one of my favorite local things: go to the Saturday Downtown Sarasota Farmers' Market! It was forecast to be a freezing cold morning, but I wasn't going to miss out. Armed with warm clothing, scarves, and jackets - we set out bright and early to get the first pick of the market. Our bravery quickly waned once we got down there are realized that the sun was being blocked by tall buildings, and that it was very windy. We decided to do what any sensible person would do: go somewhere warm for breakfast!!! There was only one option: my favorite C'est la Vie. Owned and operated by a French couple, with the majority of staff also French, this authentic cafe is perfect for any Francophile. I was torn by a few things on the menu, but since I was reminiscing about my lunch at the Châlet la Pricaz the night before, opted for the Savoyard crepe. This sublime crepe was filled with thinly sliced potatoes, ham, onions, white wine cream sauce and topped with Raclette cheese. A very generous slice of Raclette cheese, might I add. This put a very big smile on my face! With breakfast behind us and the sun starting to show, we braved our way out to the Farmer's Market. The Downtown Farmer's Market was one of the things I messed the most while living in England. Don't get me wrong, they have lovely markets in England, but they don't have that certain je nais c'est quoi as the Sarasota Market. This could be solely down to the fact that ours has perpetual sunshine. It is always such a happy, vibrant place to be. Smiling faces, dogs' tails wagging, colorful produce - it is just such a nice way to start the weekend. I must have been in the 6th or 7th grade the first time I went to the Farmer's Market. There was a vendor that used to make the most delicious sour dough baguettes. Back then in the 80's, sourdough was still sort of an exotic find in this area. We had bakeries with lovely bread, but I don't remember sourdough being as common. Anyway, I remember that it was such a treat to come down and get a loaf that was still piping hot. That was the beginning of my love affair. Today's market is over twice the size of the original, and they no longer close Main Street (thank goodness), and is home to beautiful finds like these...
Now I must confess that I am a little biased towards Worden Farm. They are a totally organic farm in Punta Gorda. Luckily for us they make the drive every Saturday so we can have a superb selection of fruits and vegetables. They are not the only organic stall at the market, but they are one of the most nicely displayed. They are always THE place to go to for French radishes. The last time I was there they had these gorgeous white beets. Unfortunately I had spent all off of the cash I had with me, but I'll keep them in mind for next time.
On the way home we stopped at Jessica's Organic Farm for some of their divine kale. Jessica's is THE place to get kale in the Sarasota area. Also completely organic, they offer a fantastic selection of produce. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, Jessica's is an absolute gem!
This is the first time ever that I have spotted the large Maryland Gourd at the market! Actually, it was my good friend Gloria shopping for her weekly produce.
Yes, we do look slightly deranged, but it was still freezing! We Sarasotans aren't used to such extreme (cold) temperatures.
C'est La Vie on Urbanspoon

Culinary Creations: Indian Spiced Kale and Tomatoes

The inspiration for this dish came from Anjum Anand's Light & Healthy Indian menu in the February 2008 edition of Sainbury's Magazine. In it, Anjum makes a spinach and tomato dish. While I am a fan of spinach, I'm an even bigger fan of kale. I hadn't planned in advance to make this, so didn't have any fresh tomatoes either. A cupboard standby of chopped tomatoes came to the rescue. In a large pan, I sauteed 1/2 can of chopped tomatoes (very well drained), with 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon of tandoori BBQ seasoning in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until bubbling (about 7 minutes).
I then added the kale, stirred to coat, and cooked partially covered to allow the excess water to evaporate, on medium heat, for 5 minutes. It was super easy to make and made the perfect vegetable side dish to serve with Chicken Pudina Tikka, and Dal Mughlai Curry.My attempts at making Indian food have not always been a success, but any of Anjum Anand's recipes that I've tried have been very easy to follow, and have turned out well. James and I were both stunned at the results and thought it could have been served in any good quality Indian restaurant. It is our new favorite way to have kale.

Easy Weeknight Indian Feast

One of my favorite things to do is indulge in a decadent mid-week meal. While I do like to make most things from scratch, a busy work week makes it worthwhile having good quality staples on hand. When it comes to Indian food, jarred sauces can be hit or miss. We've recently lucked out by finding some superb jarred sauces, along with canned dal (lentils) - all available at World Market (which will hopefully make its way to our area). This lovely meal was made up of Geeta's Pudina Tikka, Dal Mughlai Curry, and Indian spiced kale & tomatoes, all washed down with a sublime Hendrick's Cucumber G&T. The subtle flavors of the Hendrick's G&T balanced with cucumber made it the perfect drink to balance out the spicy flavors of this meal.

Celeri Rémoulade

Celeriac, or celery root, is the edible root bulb of certain varieties of celery. Popular in the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, it is starting to become a more familiar vegetable in our local markets. Any true Sarasotan knows the once importance of celery to the area's economy, and that the site of the Old Packinghouse Cafe was once exactly that: a packinghouse for the celery crops. So not only is this a new up-and-coming vegetable, it is also local product! Yet another reason to try this curious looking root vegetable. With the beautiful celery that I buy at Jessica's Organic Farm, maybe there is a chance for celery to become, once again, a thriving local crop. Now, until last summer I had only had celeriac roasted and mashed. While we were in France, I was introduced to Celeri Rémoulade . In this dish the celeriac is grated/shredded and served in sort of a coleslaw style sauce. It has long been a favorite of my husband's and it was a new favorite of mine, so I was determined to come up with a recipe so that we could enjoy this popular French dish at our home in SRQ, using local ingredients (where possible). Here is what I came up with:

* 1 large or 2 small celeriacs
* 1/2 cup mayonnaise -
Dukes or freshly made
* ¼ cup crème fraîche (sour cream or Greek Yogurt will also work well)
* 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
* 1 tbsp white wine, salad, cider, or tarragon vinegar
* celery salt

Combine the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, mustard, vinegar and celery salt (to taste).

Peal and clean the celeriac. I find it useful to cut into wedges, peel with a potato peeler, then take out the dark spots with a paring knife. Once finished, rinse with water to remove any of the hairy bits that stayed behind.

Next - shred, grate, or julianne the celeriac. We started out with julianne but was difficult to cut on my Mandoline - so we decided to grate. James was very helpful in this step. As I wasn't going to blanch the celeriac, I think the large setting on my cheese grater actually worked perfectly.

Once completed, mix the celeriac into the bowl, coating well with the sauce. If you find it a little too dry (depending on the size of your celeriac) - mix in another tablespoon or so of mayonnaise. Keep in mind that as it sits, the celeriac will absorb some of the moisture - so don't worry if it seems too moist. Refrigerate over night - it will taste so much better the next day once the flavors have time to meld and penetrate the celeriac. One thing I will say is that I used an Herbes de Provence Dijon mustard, and I really do think the herbs added such a nice touch. Just a subtle hint, not too overpowering. We were both completely impressed with the outcome: it was such a cool, refreshing, easy to make dish that will definitely become a staple in our Florida home.

From a nutritional standpoint, the celeriac is high in fiber, magnesium, potassium, thiamin, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Drinks I Love: Hendrick's Cucumber Gin and Tonic

Two summers ago while at the Trout in Oxford, I had the most exquisite Hendrick's Gin for the very first time. I was still fairly new to G&T's, but had discovered by that point that Bombay Sapphire was my favorite. But let me back up a little... the day: were visiting my sister-in-law and her beau and had set out for a walk around the outskirts of Oxford, stopping at various pubs along the way until we made it back to their house. Our first stop turned out to be a bit of a disappointment once we got there and realized that it had been burnt down to the ground. The Police tape going in should have been a sign. We pressed on taking in the lovely sights of Oxfordshire...until we came to the Trout. Located on the River Thames, it is a traditional country pub with a modern vibe. Immortalized by Inspector Morse, the Trout is the sort of pub you hope to visit when in England. With the sun coming out, we decided to sit out on the terrace to enjoy the views.
As it was getting warm, I wanted something refreshing. When I spotted "Hendrick's Cucumber Gin and Tonic" on the menu, I knew I had found just what I was craving. Hendrick's Gin is made in small batches, hand distilled in Scotland. It is infused with the essences of rose and cucumber. It has such a lovely, delicate, refreshing flavor. You really can taste the difference between Hendrick's and other mass produced gins. You can honestly taste the time and attention that goes into making this small batch gin. Garnished with a cucumber spear, I was in heaven.I hadn't had Hendrick's gin since that day at the Trout, but I was happy to find a bottle under my Christmas tree. The taste really took me back to that day sitting by the river in the sunshine, and what a nice tipple to end a hot Florida day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Budget Gourmet: Our Inauguration Dinner

We wanted to have a nice dinner to celebrate the Inauguration of our new president. We were looking for a menu that would be worthy of serving to the new president, but keeping to the penny pinching budget of the current economy, and considering I worked late, we wanted to keep it fast. The weekend before I had purchased a celeriac from my local Farmer's Market and the night before made Celeri Remoulade. As I had just tried this for the first time in France, I was very keen on recreating the recipe. When in season, this makes a very economical, but posh side dish.

After work we made a quick trip to Fresh Market, which is next to my office. We picked up a rotisserie chicken - which came with a complimentary loaf of Rosemary/Sea Salt bread. The chicken and bread were very tasty and also very economical as we had it the following night, and then made soup with the left over chicken on Thursday, which went well the the rest of the bread.

Once we got home, I also made a simple green salad, chopped a Cherokee Purple Tomato, chilled a bottle of Australian fizz and were ready to watch a ball fit for a new President and First Lady.
Now, I'm sure it was nowhere near as posh as what the Obamas ate that night, but it is something that I could have confidently served them as a makeshift meal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a New Dawn, It's a New Day... and I'm Feelin' Good...

What a truly magical day. The world woke up to the day that the 44th President of the US being sworn in. To the hopes of better times on the horizon.

I then heard the fantastic news that Fiat are joining forces with Chrysler! This also brought the hope of maybe in the near future I could have the Fiat 500 that I have long admired. For years Americans have had a love affair with their SUV's, and I truly believe the past few years have tarnished that lust, opening the door to a smaller car market.

On the way to work this morning, a Bald Eagle dove down in front of our car (while we were stopped) then flew over us. We were clearly left with the feeling that it must have been a sign.

At lunch I went next door to a friendly local bar to watch the inauguration. What a mesmerizing, vibrant speech. President Obama left me with so much hope and feeling so proud to be an American. The past year and a quarter have not been easy for me, and I see every day the effects of the economy on people I know and love, but to have hope that change is on its way... I just can't express how I feel.

It was, indeed, a truly fantastic day.

Leaving Provence...

More text and photos to come...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Les Ocres de Roussillon (10/10)

A stone's throw away from our villa was the ochre quarry of Roussillon. We had some time to spare before lunch, so walked over to explore. I am so glad I did. For a week we have been surrounded by the orange, yellow, and red clay - but hadn't seen anything like this...