Monday, January 22, 2018

Homemade Tzatziki: A Taste of the Aegean

Inspired by the outstanding homemade Tzatziki that we enjoyed in Tarpon Springs a few weeks ago, with its perfect ratio of coarsely grated cucumber, thick Greek yogurt, fresh squeezed lemon juice and generous lashings of pungent pressed garlic, I relished the promise of perfecting my own tzatziki recipe. And it was, as my stepson says, "easy-peasey lemon squeezy". Excellent at the first 'go', allowing the tatziki to chill for a few hours or even overnight, makes the flavours more robust, however we did manage to finish off a whole bowl straight away with some lovely Grilled Mahi Mahi, for a true taste of the Aegean in the midst of Toronto's coldest winter on record. 

Homemade Tzatziki
Makes1 cup 

1/2 English cucumber, seeded and grated with skin on
1 cup plain strained Greek yogurt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, pressed 
1/4 tsp Maldon salt

Slice the cucumber in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Grate the remaining cucumber, spread it out over a large tea towel and wrap it tight, leaving it at least 30 minutes until the grated cucumber is quite dry. 

In the meantime, peel and finely crush the garlic, then combine with the oil in a small bowl and allow to marinate for 10-15 minutes. Combine the cucumber with the garlic mixture, then stir through the yoghurt until evenly distributed along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Serve with warm pita or alongside a Greek salad and grilled meats. Leftover tzatziki keeps well, chilled, for about 4 days.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Charles' Florida Key Lime Pie

My dear friend Charles makes the finest Key Lime Pie. He came across his culinary ability honestly. His mother was a great cook, and Charles with a prodigious sweet tooth, mastered desserts. Born in the American south, his homemade Pralines, Southern Fried Chicken and Pink Elephants are equally irresistible as his Florida Key Lime Pie. Served after a long leisurely lunch in Naples a few weeks ago, he obliged me with his secret recipe. Named after the small Key limes that are naturalized throughout the Florida Keys, I was surprised when his secret ingredient was Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice, which Charles swears gives his pies more pizzazz. At 91, who are we to argue with that?

Charles' Florida Key Lime Pie

Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Nellie & Joe's 

2 300ml cans of sweetened condensed milk

6 egg yolks - whites not used but could make a meringue top if desired
1 cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice
2 fresh limes, zest only

Thick Pie Crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter 
1/3 cup sugar

In a large bowl, combine the pie crust ingredients thoroughly for a deep dish 9-inch pie plate or springform pan. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Press the crumbs firmly over the bottom and up sides of the pie plate, then chill for an hour before filling. For the filling, combine the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice, zest and blend until smooth. Pour the filling into the graham cracker pie crust and bake at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating. Just before serving, top with freshly whipped cream or meringue, and garnish with sliced lime.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Florida Maritime Museum in Historic Cortez Village

The Spanish conquistadors came to Sarasota seeking fortune, fame, and adventure. They were awed by the beauty of Florida’s Gulf Coast but were more interested in finding wealth than creating a permanent settlement. If Hernando Cortez were to see his namesake fishing village nestled on a picturesque point in Manatee County across from Anna Maria Island, he might be astounded to discover that the wealth of the area was not in gold, but in fish. Nestled in a 1912 Schoolhouse on almost 4 acres of land in the historic fishing village of Cortez, The Florida Maritime Museum preserves and shares Florida’s rich Maritime heritage. Founded on the importance of the local commercial fishing industry, the museum includes a research library with a variety of books, plans, logs, diaries, letters, records and archival material about maritime subjects, with special emphasis on Florida’s Gulf Coast, in addition to exhibits of boat models, tools, instruments, historic photographs and a large collection of shells from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Founded in the 1880s, the historic commercial fishing village of Cortez is on the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting its importance as one of the few remaining working commercial fishing communities in Florida. Although commercial fishing and agriculture where once the pillars of the local economy, urbanization, habitat loss, and competition with recreational fishing interests led to contraction of the fishing industry. The last fish house still working is A.P. Bell, founded in 1940 by Aaron Bell, a noted area rogue who realized that he did better on his own than with partners. The house is now run by Karen Bell. Although she left Cortez to go to college and because her father wanted her to have an easier life, she missed the area and felt a responsibility to the community. In 1986 she returned and eventually bought the Star Fish Market, turning it into a thriving waterfront restaurant, and is also the day-to-day manager of the A.P. Bell Fish House. In the winter season A.P. Bell employs 50 people and services at least 100 boats, and ships fish around the globe. Karen is very conscious that Cortez is a “working” village. She participates with FISH, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, an organization dedicated to preserving, maintaining, and promoting public awareness and protection for the traditional maritime culture and facilities in Cortez and elsewhere, and so the unique spirit of Cortez continues. 

Propeller from the 1892 steamboat Mistletoe' which began its run in the late 1800s and was Sarasota’s first reliable and regular connection to cities and counties nearby

Interior of the Florida Maritime Museum in the historic village of Cortez

Beautiful shell collected by fishermen, who treasured the beauty as well as the bounty of the sea

Small replica of the 'Glenda Fay' fishing trawler with local sponges

Diorama of Fogarty Boatworks based in Bradenton Florida 

Nestled in a 1912 Schoolhouse on almost 4 acres of land in the historic fishing village of Cortez, the Florida Maritime Museum preserves and shares Florida’s rich Maritime heritage

Collection of marine code flags

Museum library collection of rare navigation books and old photographs

Paddle wheel steamboats were the primary means of transportation in Florida, 
particularly along the lakes and rivers found in the Panhandle near Tallahassee

Net fishing used to be common sight in Cortez until a net ban in 1994 prohibited their use

Outdoor waterfall and pond beside the museum

Secret garden window into the private courtyard of the museum

Built by local landscape designer Alan Garner in the 1980’s, the fountain was recently restored

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bridge Tender Inn: Dockside Tiki Bar on the Beach

Located on historic Bridge Street on Anna Maria Island, the Bridge Tender Inn captures what island life is all about with friendly people, fresh seafood, cold drinks and beautiful views overlooking beautiful Sarasota Bay. Established in 1991, the Bridge Tender Inn and Dockside Bar is a favourite among locals and 'snowbirds' alike. Known for its 'old Florida' charm, casual beachside fare and popular evening entertainment, the waterfront tiki bar features lighter fare including fresh local seafood, a great selection of appetizers, tasty salads, array of sandwiches, and selection of creative cocktails such as Scottie's Afternoon Delight, Shan's Rum Runner and Beckie's Bikini Babe. Arrive by boat or walk up from Bradenton Beach, and enjoy Florida seafood on the sandy shore of sunny Sarasota Bay. 

Bridge Tender dock decorated with Christmas lights

Yeungling beer from America's oldest brewery

Smoked Mahi Mahi fish paté with crackers, pickles and crudités

Basket of lightly fried Basa Bites served with tartar sauce and fresh lemon

Classic Grilled Reuben Sandwich made with thin y sliced corned beef, sauerkraut and melted swiss cheese with thousand island dressing, served on rye bread

Grilled Reuben
Serves 4

2 tbsp butter 
8 slices rye bread 
8 slices deli sliced corned beef 
8 slices Swiss cheese 
1 cup sauerkraut, drained 
1/2 cup Thousand Island dressing

Preheat a large skillet or griddle on medium heat. Lightly butter one side of bread slices, and spread the non-buttered sides with Thousand Island dressing. On 4 bread slices, layer a slice Swiss cheese, two slices of corned beef, 1/4 cup of sauerkraut and a second slice of Swiss cheese. Top with the remaining bread slices, buttered sides out. Grill the sandwiches until both sides are golden brown, about 15 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Coquina Beach Sunday Market: Music, Art & Food

Located on the southern end of Anna Maria Island on Florida's Gulf Coast and lined with tall pines, Coquina Beach is home to a popular outdoor Sunday market featuring local artists, fresh produce, arts and crafts, jewelry, pottery, quirky collectibles and live entertainment by local musicians, the Anna Maria Island String Band. One of the best discoveries we made were the vibrant fish and beachscape paintings of local Bradenton artist Mike Parrott who uses reclaimed boards as the 'canvas' for his work. A lovely friendly fellow, Mike was a joy to talk to about his art and made our visit to Coquina Market a more special visit.

Looking through Australian Pines which line Coquina Beach, home to a popular Sunday Market

Nautilus Soap Company sells hand-crafted, detergent and preservative-free bath soaps

 Sharlee's Front Porch Cakes, a local home-based baker from Bradenton specializes in 
custom cake designs and cupcakes

Local Bradenton artist Mike Parrott paints local sea life and beach scenes on reclaimed pallet board

More of Mike's colourful paintings

Mike Parrott crab painting we purchased from him at the market 

Anna Maria Island String Band plays each Sunday at the Coquina Beach Market

'She Paints on Glass' stall at the market features painted wine glasses, vases and mason jars

Fresh local produce 

Plump local beets

Sandy white Coquina Beach 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Blue Dolphin on Longboat Key: Best Breakfast

A simple blue and white presence on Longboat Key, The Blue Dolphin is a classic breakfast and lunch spot nestled in the Centre Shops of Gulf of Mexico Drive. With a long counter, spacious tables, and comfortable booths, there is a certain nostalgia and charm that makes everyone feel comfortable as soon as they walk through the doors. Warm and welcoming, the staff know the regulars by name and even casual interlopers get a cheerful 'hello' and piping hot cup of coffee. The menu runs the gamut from corned beef hash to huevos rancheros and Belgian waffles, with a very worthy eggs Benedict playing a starring role. Their omelettes, pancakes, and french toast are legendary, made from eggs brought in fresh daily direct from Sutter's Egg Farm in Sarasota. The Blue Dolphin's winning formula is quite simple: friendly staff, great service and fresh quality ingredients deliciously prepared by Culinary Institute graduates, all at a reasonable price. No wonder it's the top breakfast spot on Longboat Key.

The Blue Dolphin Café at the Centre Shops on Longboat Key

The Blue Dolphin Café is one of the most popular breakfast places on Longboat Key

Bright and colourful with a fun 1950s diner vibe, the Blue Dolphin is the most popular breakfast spot of the Key

The latest issue of the Longboat Observer is essential reading over breakfast at The Blue Dolphin

The Blue Dolphins laminated but sensational breakfast menu

Broccoli, onion, mushroom and swiss cheese omelet with fresh fruit and english muffin

Fried Eggs, sausage, home fries and whole wheat toast

Blue Dolphin Chicken Salad
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of The Blue Dolphin

2 lb chicken breast
1/8 cup finely diced celery
1/8 granny smith apple, finely diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise 
2 tbsp sour cream
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp onion powder

Cook the chicken breast at 325°F until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Allow the chicken to cool then chop into bite-size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped celery then the mayonnaise and sour cream. Season to taste with the celery seeds, onion powder and salt and pepper, and toss together. Serve over salad greens or as a sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Michaels on East: Sophisticated American Cuisine

One of the finest restaurants in Sarasota, Michaels on East recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in April of this year. Founded in 1987, co-proprietors Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini seem to have done everything right for the restaurant has been a treasured fixture on Sarasota’s culinary scene for over three decades now, having built an unsurpassed reputation for exceptional service and inspired cuisine on the principle that each guest should be treated the way they expect to be treated, every moment of each and every visit. "Quite a lot has changed in Sarasota since 1987 and we’ve been proud and privileged to be a part of so many evolutions in the culinary scene, festivals and community events," says Klauber. Both partners enjoy traveling the world and bringing back the very best from their adventures, whether it’s a new wine that Klauber and his wife Terri discover on a trip to South Africa or a new fad ingredient like kale that they find a unique way to utilize, the team at Michael’s are always reinventing their menu, but some classics have been there from the start and will probably never go away.

Starters such as Chef Jamil Pineda's fabulous Maine Lobster Bisque with Tempura Blue Crabmeat and my Mom's favourite Hoisin Duck and Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls with sweet-sour chile dipping sauce and pickled ginger. The steak and seafood menu at Michael's is legendary with dishes such as the delicious Pan Seared Scallops with Maine Lobster and Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Roasted Butternut Squash in sage brown butter sauce, Grilled Provimi Veal Chop with crushed red bliss potatoes and garlic scented broccoli rabe, and selection of succulent steaks from the meltingly tender Filet Mignon to Phil’s Porcini-Rubbed 14-ounce New York Strip served with roasted shiitake mushrooms, arugula and lemon-oregano fingerling potatoes. Side dishes are equally tempting with Potato Croquettes, Fresh Creamed Spinach, Royal Trumpet Wild Mushrooms and Molly’s Truffled Macaroni and Cheese with Manchego, Gruyere and Parmesan. After 30 years, Michael's on East is still food heaven.

Beautiful fountain with twinkle lights in the leafy courtyard entrance to Michael's on East in Sarasota 

The entrance to Michael's on East

The elegant interior of Michael's on East

One of the finest restaurants in Sarasota, Michael’s On East restaurant takes fine dining to another level with award-winning modern American cuisine and outstanding service

Our server aerating our bottle of 2014 Lola Pinot Noir which she then poured back into the bottle

Serving our delicious full bodied wine

Michael's freshly baked housemade breads and papadam 

2014 Lola Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Napa

Angel Hair Onion Rings

Maine Lobster Bisque with Tempura Blue Crabmeat, Fresh Maine Lobster
and Brandied Crème Fraîche presented in the bowl, and followed by the bisque poured overtop

Intensely flavoured and wonderfully delicious Maine Lobster Bisque

Hoisin Duck and Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls with sweet and sour chile dipping sauce, pickled ginger and seaweed salad

Sautéed Pompano Casbarian topped with Gulf Shrimp and Tomatoes, seasoned with garlic, fresh herbs and crushed chili peppers, lemon beurre blanc and garlic-scented haricot verts

Pan-Roasted Bluefin Crab Cakes with Truffle Roasted Potatoes, Herbed Tartar Sauce and Roasted Asparagus

10 oz Filet Mignon

Pan Roasted Royal Trumpet Wild Mushrooms Sautéed with Garlic

Roasted Truffle Potatoes

USDA Prime New York Strip Sirloin Steak aged 25 days with roasted baby peppers and served with  Bernaise sauce

Pan-Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Artisanal Sardinian Fregola with Maine Lobster, Fire-Roasted
Corn and Herb Roasted Tomatoes with Spiced Lobster Broth

Founded in 1987, co-proprietors Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini celebrated the 30th anniversary of Michaels in April of this year

A beautiful decorated Christmas Tree at the entrance to Michaels

Butter-Roasted Flounder with Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Executive Chef Jamil Pineda

4 7oz pieces of flounder filets 
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste 
24 Brussels Sprouts, shaved
2 tbsp olive oil

Beurre Blanc:
2 cups white wine 
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup champagne vinegar 
1 lb butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 pinch of sugar
1 tbsp grain mustard 
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown Butter Sauce:
1/2 lb unsalted butter
2 tbsp toasted almonds
1 tsp fresh sage, chopped

2 russet potatoes
4 cups vegetable oil
Salt to taste 

For the beurre blanc, combine the shallots, wine and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream and simmer until the cream has reduced by half. Increase the heat to medium-high, and rapidly whisk in the butter, piece, by piece until it has melted into the cream and thickened it, then remove from the heat, cover and set aside.

For the brown butter sauce, add the butter in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it starts to turn brown. Add the sage and almonds, then set aside until the dish is ready to be plated.

Wash the potatoes. Slice into 1/4-inch thick slices, then into 1/4-inch sticks. Wash thoroughly in cold water. Drain well. Deep fry in batches at 350°F until potatoes are cooked, but not brown. At serving time, increase the oil temperature to 375°F. Fry potatoes in batches, until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt.

In a non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat, sauté the sprouts with oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside momentarily while the fish is prepared. In a non-stick sauté pan over high heat, add the oil. Season the flounder with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown on both sides. Set aside until the dish is ready to be plated. 

To serve, spoon the brussels sprouts in the middle of each of 4 dinner plates. Top with the fish, spoon the brown butter mix on top, then the beurre blanc across the fish. On top of each portion, garnish with the fried potato allumettes and serve immediately.

Michael's On East Mighty Murf Burger
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Executive Chef Jamil Pineda

Michael’s On East has cooked up a burger beyond the ordinary beef patty and cheese. Instead, they have devised a healthy blended creation, marrying meat with mushrooms in the Mighty Murf Burger, named after Michael’s On East Proprietor Michael Klauber’s father. Robust and juicy, the burger triumphantly stands, waiting for the first bite. 

2 lb ground bison sirloin
1 lb Spanish chorizo
1 lb beech mushrooms
4 oz olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the oil and mushrooms. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the mushrooms are thoroughly cooked. Season with salt and black pepper. Place the mushrooms in a food processor for 45 seconds and set aside to cool down. In a mixing bowl, add the bison, chorizo and processed mushrooms and combine well. Portion into balls about 8 oz each and form into burger patties. Place patties in the refrigerator for one hour to allow all the ingredients to settle.

Porcini Rub:
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
7 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 cup porcini powder
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and set.

Onion Relish:
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
2 tbsp roasted red pepper
20 oz extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp sugar
2 oz olive oil

In a sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the onions with olive oil until they begin to brown. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Once browned, set aside and allow to cool for one hour. Transfer the onions to a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well for assembly.

Creole Mayonnaise:
1/4 cup Mayonnaise
1 tbsp green onions, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
2 tsp sweet pickle relish
2 tsp coarse-grained mustard
1/2 tsp hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir well and set aside for until the dish is ready to be plated.

Trumpet Mushrooms:
6 large Trumpet mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 oz olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

On a large sauté pan over medium high heat, sauté the mushrooms with oil, season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes until the mushrooms are semi-crispy. Set aside until the dish is ready to be plated.

To Finish & Plate:
6 brioche burger buns or your favorite buns
6 burger patties
6 tbsp porcini rub
6 slices Monterey spicy jack cheese
Sautéed trumpet mushrooms
1 large tomato, cut into 6 thin slices
6 tbsp onion relish
6 leaves baby romaine lettuce
6 tbsp Creole mayonnaise

Heat the grill on high for about ten minutes. Place the burger patties on the grill and sear for 2 minutes on both sides. After cooking the patties initial four minutes at 2 minutes on each side, keep flipping every 40 seconds until you reach your desired temperature. For medium-rare, Chef Jamil suggests three 40 second flips after the initial 2 minutes on both sides. Add one tablespoon of porcini rub on all the patties and let cook for 30 seconds. Add the cheese and allow it to melt. Remove the patties and grill the buns for one minute. Place the buns on a large assembling platter, add the patties on the button part of the bun. Divide the trumpet mushrooms on each patty, top with one tablespoon of onion relish, one sliced tomato, lettuce and mayo on each burger.  Place the top of the bun to finish the “Mighty Mushroom Burger” and serve!