Thursday, March 26, 2009


Ratatouille is one of my favorite dishes. It is the perfect time of year to make this traditional French Provençal vegetable stew as everything is in season. For the past month, my favorite organic stall at the Farmers' Market has had Asian eggplant in their "bargain" bin along with green and red bell peppers. The Florida sweet onions are at their prime, as well as tomatoes. There are several ways of making this dish. Some cook everything separately, then layer and continue cooking, while others choose to saute everything together at once. My version is sort of an easy version of the latter. Yes, you could pre-chop everything and then begin, but I like to cut everything in a certain order as it is cooking.

* First I start by putting about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot and heat over a medium flame. While heating, I roughly chop an onion and 1 clove of garlic, adding it the oil once chopped.
* Next I cut the eggplant (or aubergine depending on where you live). This then gets added to the softening onions with more olive oil to coat well. Eggplant is a very thirsty vegetable and will absorb all of the oil, so don't hold back. At this point I add a good pinch of sea salt, stir, and then continue chopping the rest of the vegetables.
* I then chop the zucchini (courgette), yellow squash, and bell peppers. Once all of the vegetables have been added, I add another drizzle of olive oil if needed, a large pinch of herbes de Provence, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer.
* While the vegetables are simmering, I chop 1 large or 2 medium tomatoes.
* After the mixture has gently simmer about 30 minutes total, I add the chopped tomato and about 1/2 tablespoon of Harissa paste and stir. I then bring it back up to just about medium and let gently simmer for 20-30 minutes, or to desired consistency.You can serve ratatouille as a side dish or a main. One of my favorite meals is to have ratatouille over brown rice. It makes an absolutely lovely filling for crepes. I also make a pizza using the left overs - spreading over a pre-baked crust, top with Feta cheese, then bake until cheese had melted.
While I am very happy with this method as it is so easy, I've been reading a few recipes that add the tomato at the beginning. This forms more of a sauce for the vegetables to stew in. I've always added to tomato at the end as I was told many years ago that adding tomatoes too soon to a dish hinders the way the other vegetables cook. Now, I have no idea if this is true and haven't tried doing it in reverse, but if you have anything to add to that topic - I would love to hear!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sarasota's Highland Games and Celtic Festival ~ 2009

Saturday was the Scottish Heritage Society of Sarasota's Highland Games and Celtic Festival. The Sarasota British Club have had a stall the past three years where I have been serving complimentary samples of my favorite version of Pimm's Cup (recipe below).

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.
It was an action packed day featuring various competitions...... including the infamous Tossing of the Caber...
... and there were three different Scottish bands parading around adding to the atmosphere. There were definitely more bag pipes than you could shake a bridie at! Mr. Jack R. from Ohio even gave us our own private performance including a lesson on how the bagpipe works. It was really fascinating to learn that melted bee's wax is used to coat the inside of the leather bag, stopping air from escaping and enabling it to fill with air for the bagpipe to play.
I'd be lying to say that the food wasn't one of my favorite things. James and I always look forward to sharing a portion of the Curry Chips. Other highlights are Fish & Chips, Deep-fried Mars Bars, Scotch Eggs, Sausage Rolls, Meat Pies, and a new discovery to us this year: Shepherds Pie in a little pastry dish.
Late in the afternoon I spotted this Bald Eagle sitting in a tree close by. It stayed there for ages. The sounds of the bagpipes and Celtic bands on the main stage must have been a welcomed change from the airplanes that are usually taking off from the airfield.
The event is wrapped up in the evening with a Ceilidh. I'm sure Emily from Thoughts and Biro Sketches would approve!
Here is my version of the summer time classic, Pimm's Cup:
* 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 Pimm's mixture.
* Enjoy, but be careful, consumption can cause "Creeping Paralysis". So pleasant to drink and seemingly so innocuous it catches up with you in the end! (that warning came from the father of Terry Sweeney who is the current Past President of the club and husband to Audrey, the eloquent hand model holding the Pimm's in the photo above)

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Herb Box

As I can't really plant much outside, I like to keep a container of herbs on my lanai. Here is an updated photo of my herb box taken on 03/07. In my last Herb Box posting, I had planted the Nasturtiums (02/15). My dill didn't make it, so am going to purchase one to replant. They were still doing really well, as was my Cilantro that popped up from roots that I had planted last summer. This was a very unexpected and very welcome surprise. Harry's Chives were still doing well, but my Basil had run it's course, so I bought an organic Dandelion plant to add in it's place. I love Dandelion Salad, so am looking forward to seeing how this grows.
I don't seem to have much luck keeping Cilantro, so I'm enjoying it while I can. We had Tacos tonight so it was nice to go and harvest my own. Maybe I will be more successful this time around, but it seems like once the summer rains begin, my Cilantro disappears.
This photo was taken on 03/15. Just one week after the first photo in this post! My Nasturtiums are growing like mad! I can't wait to see what color they will be. The Cilantro is taking over and is really filling in the container, and my Dandelion is doing well.
It keeps getting greener and larger by the day. My gnomes are enjoying the shade... This is the best my herb garden has ever looked. I use an organic planting matter mixed with a little planting soil. To enrich the soil, I add the used leaved from my morning cup of tea. Right now I'm drinking an Earl Grey Green Tea, and it seems to be suiting my herbs. Now I don't do this every day, but about once a week. The additional left over tea gets mixed in with our coffee for my gardenia and roses. Every 6 weeks I do Jerry Baker's "Happy Herb Tonic". This is the first time I've done it religiously, and I really think I can tell a difference.
If you are interested in this post, please check back in a few weeks. I'm going to be posting updates on what I've done right and wrong. Hopefully there will be more rights than wrongs! If you have an tips, suggestions, or advice, I'd love to hear from you!!!

Ikea's Basil From Seed

While I do have a fairly green thumb, I've always been intimidated by gardening from seed. For Christmas this year, my fab friend Gloria gave me a bag of goodies from Ikea. In the bag was this kit to grow basil from seed. I started it on 03/07. In the pot was a disc of potting matter that you soak for 15 minutes in 1 cup of water. It expanded to fill the pot, then you scattered the seeds on top... and wait.
I'm not known for being the most patient person, but this really started to sprout in days! One week later, on 03/15, this is what I woke up to find:
By 03/30 the bright green sprouts had started to take a yellow hue. I was also noticing fuzzy mold spores starting to appear. As the instructions weren't entirely clear, I wasn't sure how much water or sun I should be giving it. I'm not sure if there was something I was doing wrong or even how to correct it.
By 4/07, the mold was starting to take over. Sadly, this was the end of my Ikea basil plant.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Lazy Sunday with Harry

I've had a very busy past two weeks with work and the running up to the Sarasota British Club's Murder Mystery that took place on Friday night. It was a labor of love, but kept me very busy. As we were doing this for a group of 80+, I had to re-write the text from the CD so local Actor & Radio Host Cliff Roles could lead the investigation. We were also lucky enough to have Sarasota Magazine's own Mr. Chatterbox, Bob Plunket, join the cast! The rest of the cast was made up by 6 members of the club, including myself as Angeline Desguys, the murder! Everyone did a fantastic job and it was a lot of fun.

Today I decided to have a very indulgent, relaxing day, which suited Harry. We started out with a nice leisurely breakfast.
Then went outside to enjoy the sunshine. James & I did some gardening while Harry kept an eye on things.
Harry has the prime spot for sunning and watching lizards, all within reach of his beloved chives...
Harry is a true sun lover. Once the sun is no longer shining on the lanai, he moves inside to sit on our bar, where the sun shines in the late afternoon.
We'll probably head back out to have a few drinks while the sun sets and BBQ dinner. This is my favorite way to spend a Sunday.
We had a surprise later that night. I noticed a load of people outside staring in the same direction. While I realized that the sky was probably not falling, I went out to investigate. It turned out to be the Space Shuttle finally taking off from Cape Canaveral on the other coast of Florida. It was the most amazing launch I have ever seen. There was this bold plume of red and white smoking going into the sky with a very visible shuttle leading the way. We could even see the two rocket boosters separate and fall. My camera was inside at the time and I didn't want to go inside for fear off missing it. Here is the trail that was leftover 10 minutes after take off.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Culinary Creations: Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich

This first time we had this flavor combination was at the Bubble Room on Captiva Island. As I'm not a huge fan of cole slaw, I thought combining BBQ pork and cole slaw sounded absolutely vile. It appealed to James, so he ordered it, and I'm glad he did. The flavors of the cole slaw really did compliment the flavors of the BBQ pork, and I've since (sort of) become a fan of cole slaw. We've had this sandwich at various places since then, one of James's favorites coming in the form of a wrap at the Southend Brewery in Charleston.

The "Boston Butt" cut of pork works best for shredding. While the pork is coming up to room temperature, I heat my slow cooker on "low" for about 30 minutes, adding 1 small sliced onion to the bottom. Next I add the pork, lightly seasoned, adding a roughly sliced clove of garlic or two and various fresh herbs to the crevasses. If I have extra veggies like carrots or celery in my fridge, I like to add them to the bottom of the slow cooker as I use the juices at the end of cooking at a later date. Cook for 6-8 hours, until pork is easy to separate with a fork (usually about 6 hours).After I put the lid on the pork, I move on to making the cole slaw:

* 1/8 cup of white-wine vinegar

* 1/4 cup of Duke's Mayonnaise

* 1 tsp Dijon mustard

* 1 bag of Cole Slaw Blend (cabbage & carrot mix)

* celery salt to taste

Combine the wet ingredients, whisk, then pour over Cole Slaw Blend. Stir and refrigerate while to pork continues to cook.

Once the pork has finished cooking, let cool for around 1/2 hour. While the pork is cooling, I transfer the liquids from the slow cooker into a freezer safe container to be used for soup or sauces (I usually leave about 1/4 cup of the liquids in the pot). Once the pork has cooled, take two forks and start pulling ir apart, returning it to the slow cooker.At this point, you can use any type of BBQ sauce. My favorite is Sticky Fingers Mustard based sauce, but as I was out of it I used a smoky tomato BBQ sauce. Coat to your liking. I add a little more sauce as it will absorb into the pork while reheating. Once coated, put the lid back on and let heat for about 1/2 hour. If your slow cooker runs on the hot side, you might want to turn it down to the "keep warm" setting to do this.

While the pork and sauce are warming, I get the buns ready. First I fire up my broiler to the highest setting. Next I butter the buns, season with a salt free garlic blend, then broil until nicely toasted.
Once everything is ready, I slap a nice amount of pork onto the toasted bun, topping with cole slaw.Not only will your taste buds thank you, but so will your nose as it makes your house smell divine! Enjoy!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Product Review: DRY Soda Co: Lavender

Anyone who knows me knows that I love lavender. From the plant, to the scent, to the color I can't get enough of it. I even drink lavender tea. On a recent trip to the Fresh Market, I was almost doing cartwheels at the site of the DRY Soda Co: Lavender. While I applaud their bravery of featuring lavender as a flavor, I was slightly disappointed with the results. It wasn't horrible, but for my taste buds, the lavender could have been a bit stronger. On the last bottle I had added a good squeeze of lemon. It needed just that bit of tartness to balance it out. With lemon, it was really refreshing and I would definitely buy it again. I do wish they would up the essence of lavender though. If you're going to go for something that unique, go for it!
The packaging is Brilliant. I loved the Flavor Profile, Characteristics, and Pairing Ideas that were on the side of the box. The logo was appealing and even the bubbles delighted that part of my brain that sings, "it's pretty - must have".
They really did put a lot of detail into the packaging. Even right down to the bottle top.

Fresh Market had two other flavors: Lemongrass and Rhubarb. If you have a look at DRY Soda's website, they also have other interesting flavors.

Creating a more sophisticated soda for grown ups is a fantastic idea. Kudos to them, and I can't wait to try the others!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Food Memory: The Church Inn ~ Ludlow, Shropshire, UK

The last time I was in England, I went to Ludlow for the first time. Ludlow is a market town close to the border of Wales. Steeped in history, it has an amazing collection of medieval and Tudor buildings. Also a mecca for "foodies", it boasts the annual Ludlow Marches Festival of Food & Drink in September, this three day affair features the infamous 'Sausage Trail'.

After a morning of sight-seeing, we stopped at the Church Inn for lunch. It is a popular, cozy, traditional pub. When asking about the Pub's history, we were presented with a book that listed most of the Landlords from over the past seven centuries. Throughout the building's history, it also housed a blacksmith, chemist, a barber-surgeon (Sweeney Todd anyone?) amongst other things.
They had a nice selection of ales, but I opted for a nice country cider. I love going to pubs in England and trying ciders that I can't get in the supermarket. James and his father opted for fish and chips, my mother-in-law had a steak baguette, and I went for the infamous pub classic: the Ploughman's Lunch. This isn't something I usually order, but I am so glad I did. Their Ploughman's was the best I've ever seen. It had a generous amount of ham, some salad, bread, pickle, a nice hunk of Cheddar cheese and the star of the day: Shropshire Blue. Having never tried this cheese before, I was in seventh heaven. Shropshire Blue is sort of like a Stilton meets Cheshire Cheese. I love trying new things and this made the choice of pub officially a good one. It was truly a lovely day that I will never forget, and will always have the warm memory of the first time I tried this cheese.

Food Memory: Magnolias ~ Charleston, SC

A couple years ago we were fortunate enough to stumble upon Magnolias restaurant in Charleston, SC. Advertised in many local paper and magazines, we had to have a look at the menu. Billed as "Uptown Down South", we had to try. (Mel27 - this place is totally you! Kate, if you haven't tried yet, you must!)

Most of the restaurants that we ate at in Charleston had their own cookbook, so we asked our server to see theirs. While we were expecting a softback, spiral bound book we were presented with an amazing hardback book, with beautiful photography, signed by Donald Brickman himself! This was a "souvenir" I could not leave without. (Photo of Magnolias Cookbook from
As we had been eating glutinously for a week and it was our last day in Charleston, I opted for a lighter meal. I had a bowl of their Ham Stew to start with, followed by the Wadmalaw Field Greens with Lemon-Lingonberry Vinaigrette. Both were good. Very good. I'd even goes as far as to say amazing. I can't remember what James had to start with, but for a main he had the Bacon Wrapped Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Tasso Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Collards, and Creamed Corn. If it sounds like a lot of food, it was. And I was even happier at the sight of it that I had only ordered a salad. I'm salivating just thinking of it now. If I were told that I had one day to live, Magnolias is where I'd spend it. Eating my way through the menu. I'd probably goes as far as saying that it is my favorite restaurant in the US. From the food, to the decor, to the wine list, it is truly an elegant experience.

Back to the cookbook: I love to do themed Holiday meals, and have gone "Southern" for Thanksgiving the past two years. This proves to be a popular choice, and the Magnolias cookbook is a savior when it comes to side dishes.Their Creamed Corn and Collard Greens are a must. Both are really easy to make and the results are divine. They are now family favorites, and I've almost perfected them without using the book... almost. Last year they accompanied our Maple Roasted Turkey, Mom's Stuffing, and Potato & Rutabaga Mash.

On Sale This Week at Publix...

Product Review: Patak's Coat & Cook! - Tandoori

Having previously tried the Tikka version, I was looking forward to making Patak's Coat & Cook Tandoori, with a few noted changes.The last time I used the Tikka, I didn't mix the packet with anything, and spread it directly onto two chicken breasts. The results were a little too strong and salty, and the paste was a little thick. My friend Jane had suggested using yogurt to mix with and marinate. Well, I didn't have any yogurt, so relied on my favorite Duke's Mayonnaise, mixing equal parts of each. I had two extremely large chicken breasts that I cut into smaller portions, coated with the mixture and marinated for 2 hours, turning occasionally. The chicken was cooked at 325F for 20-25 minutes, and the results were lovely. The mayonnaise made a world of difference as it kept the chicken nice and moist, and the flavor was superb.
I made this for a picnic, and like to think that we had the tastiest food of the bunch. Modestly speaking, of course.

Product Review: Simply Organic Red Pepper Curry Vinaigrette

On a recent day of al fresco dining, I settle for an Indian theme. Salad is always an easy picnic vegetable option, and I had this packet of Simply Organic Red Pepper Curry Vinaigrette mix lurking in my cupboard. The directions called to mix the packet with water and vinegar. Once mixed, I felt that it was lacking something, so added a little more vinegar and also good amount of olive oil, as in my opinion, no salad dressing is complete without it. With a little experimenting and the improvisations, we were really impressed with the turn out and will definitely have again.

An Indian Summer Picnic

I love eating al fresco, whether it be a picnic or at a restaurant. You just can't beat sitting with family or friends having good conversation, nice food and wine, fresh air, and the sun shining on your face. Recently, I was invited to a traditional English Garden Fête at the home of the Sarasota British Club's new President, Sue Ford.

It was such a lovely day and brought back so many happy memories of our favorite English summer pastime: Summer Proms. Each summer, at venues across the country, they have a series of out door classical concerts. The themes range from Music from the Movies to the classics that feature on the Last Night of the Proms. The tradition goes that you bring your own table, chairs, plonk, and a meal fit for royalty. I could go on and on about menus from Proms past, but the most memorable for me was one June when we were celebrating James's birthday. We had been out picking raspberries earlier in the day and I made a two layered chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I had covered the top of the bottom layer in raspberries, then once the top layer was iced, dotted fresh raspberries for color. After the 20 minute downpour that usually makes a brief appearance, we had a lovely time. For Sue's Garden Fête, I wanted to create a menu that was fit for the Proms. As Indian food is so popular in the UK, we ended up with Tandoori Chicken, Curried Couscous, and Salad with a Red Pepper Curry Vinaigrette. It was sublime and took me back to an English summer.

Lovely Award

Gina from Purdy Wallcovering was sweet enough to send me this fab award. Gina has a wallcovering shop in my area and posts such beautiful images on her blog. It makes me wish that I had a budget as large as my imagination so I could redecorate every time she posts something that catches my eye. Thank you Gina, this is my first "award" and I hope to meet you in person some day. Any friend of Kate's is worth knowing :-)"These blog are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight more bloggers who must choose eight more bloggers and include this cleverly written text in the body of their award."

Now as I don't "know" 8 to pass on to, here are six lovely blogs that I really enjoy. Whether it is delectable food, beautiful words and images, or witty prose, these ladies keep my coming back to read more: