Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Delayed Duck

OOPS. I forgot to post our Christmas Eve dinner menu, so here it is (no recipes included)

  • Classic Shrimp Cocktail
  • Belgian Endive salad with blue cheese and olive oil dressing
  • Roast Duck with a Apple Cranberry Chutney (Stonewall brand) and port wine reduction
  • Oven roasted yukon gold potatoes, roasted in duck fat (soooo yummy)
  • Sauteed green beans with garlic and cherry tomatoes
  • and for dessert, gourmet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes. (A Christmas gift from my employer).

It was a lovely tasty dinner shared with my good friend, Frank.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vienna in the Snow

Click on the photo to view a sampling of the photographs from our trip to Vienna.

Vienna in the Snow

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ein Tisch für drei, bitte

A table for three, please.
Who are these people trying to get a table at such an opulent restaurant. 
Shirley, Frank and Dick
A teaser pic from Vienna

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Klimt, Bosch, and Venus

Since photography is not permitted in most art museums, I will not have photographs of some of the works we discussed in the posts from Vienna. So for your viewing enjoyment, here are three images pulled from Wikipedia. (click on image to enlarge)

Klimt - The Kiss

Venus of Willendorf

Bosch - The Last Judgement

Travel Rant

Rant #1: The logistics of travel, in my opinion, is always difficult and I am usually pretty good about rolling with whatever the situation delivers. You really don't have much choice. But the travel experience can be better at some airports than others. I already ranted about Washington Dulles International Airport in an earlier post from the outbound journey. Well, the return visit wasn't any better. You cannot have a short layover in Dulles. We spent 2 hours from the time we deplaned to the time we were at our next gate for our Tampa flight negotiating lines, transports of various types, etc. While we did find a helpful United employee when we checked in for our ongoing flights (Shirley to Roanoke, VA and us to Tampa), so all is not bleak. But I nominate IAD, Washington Dulles, as the most inefficient airport I have ever visited. 

Rant #2: Why don't we have consistent security and baggage standards worldwide? 

  • Take off shoes in Tampa and Washington, don't take them off in Vienna
  • Carry-on baggage limitation is based on size in US, but we had to weigh our luggage in Vienna, and all three bags which arrived as carry-on had to be checked due to weight limitations. (Same aircraft type, and the plane still had to carry them)
  • Body scanners in US, none (noted) in Vienna

That's all I am saying.

Austria hits and misses

Back by popular demand is our roundtable round-up of trip hits and misses, this time from Vienna. So here goes:
Hotel -
We only stayed at the Le Meridien, and it was a hit!
Some minor quibbles:
Frank - could have used a nightlite. The glass wall separating the bathroom from the main room was kind of a hazard
Dick - for me, the music in the lounge was too loud, especially the first night we stopped for an end-of-day drink.

Food -
Hit - italic. Awesome Northern Italian cuisine in a soothing modern space. And the chef is from..wait for it...Portugal? Oh well. It was great
Hit - I have to agree on italic. Everything was first rate from the ambiance to the service to the food.
Miss - Witwe Bolte. The authentic Viennese cuisine was fine...it was the dysfunctional staff that brought the whole thing down.
Miss - I have to agree with Frank on this one too. The restaurant is in a cute section of town, and the food was fine, but the attitude of the staff was off-putting.

Hit - this is a tough one. We saw some wonderful concerts, museums, etc, it is difficult to pick just one. But, if I must, I think the most impressive thing I saw was the Venus of Willindorf. How often do you get to see a 25,000 year old statue. Just amazing.
Hit - The Secession Building and Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze. Vienna is a riot of gorgeous architecture, but the Art Nouveau influenced Secession Building, with it's clean lines and nature-inspired elements, is a breath of fresh air amidst all the Baroque ornateness. Inside, Klimt's visualization of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is breathtaking in it's depth of humanity, it's inventive use of multi media, and it's powerful psychological themes.
Dick (again): can I have a second choice in this very difficult category? Seeing all of the Klimt's at the Belvedere was very impressive, especially two of his most famous works, The Kiss and Judith.
Miss - this is not really an "attraction" but I will add it here. A big "miss" for me was the ice and slush on the sidewalks and streets the first couple of days. It made walking difficult, especially while trying to look at the buildings and walk at the same time.
Miss - The "World Famous" Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel. Talk about dry! I need an IV line to bring my fluid levels back up just thinking about it!

Special Moments
Frank - seeing Vienna in the snow on the first day of our trip. The city was like a magical winter jewel. Beautiful.

Dick - I agree seeing Vienna in the snow was beautiful, but for me there was a specific magical moment. That was on leaving the hotel for dinner the first night and seeing the large snow flakes falling through the lights of the city. That added another layer of glitter to the snow covered city.

Odds and Ends
Frank (special mentions)
-the Cafe Moet at the Meridien Hotel. Whoever came up with the idea of a cafe that combines coffee, small noshes and champagne in one spot is a Mozart level genius.
-Booking the night prior to our arrival at the hotel so we could get in our room and rest. God bless you, Richard.
-the Austrian Air pilot who landed us safely through heavy fog onto a snowy, icy runway in Vienna.

Dick: The landing was amazing wasn't it. We thought we were still well off the ground in the clouds/fog, but we touched down and it still looked like we were in the clouds. But no, just a foggy heavy snow storm.
- Le Meridien was a great, albeit a little pricey, hotel right in the city center. It was well worth the splurge for its level of service, amenities, hip style, and location.

Somewhere Over the North Atlantic

Our journey home has begun. We departed Vienna airport about 10:30 this morning, 4:30 AM Eastern time and we are approximately 5 hours from Washington DC as I type this. However it may not get posted until I get home.

Yesterday, Tuesday, our last full day in Vienna, started as another bright, sunny, blue-sky lovely day. Shirley ventured out on a shopping trip while Frank and I headed to the Academy of Fine Arts to see Hieronymus Bosch's somewhat disturbing trip-tych "The Seven Dearly Sins". Bosch uses a combination of humans and animals to show humanity's progress from the Garden of Eden through life and on to hell. There is a lot going on in a Bosch painting.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking the pedestrian areas of the center city, with another look at St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the lovely tiled roof, this time not partially obscured by snow. We stopped for lunch at Demel, a famous Viennese bakery and cafe. While we ate, we could watch the bakers work in the kitchen. Great fun!

Dinner was at italic, the same restaurant where we had lunch on the first day. We enjoyed our lunch so much, we decided to cap off the trip with a wonderful dinner at the same restaurant. It was so worth it. We shared an appetizer of smoked salmon with seaweed salad. For our main course Shirley and I opted for the grilled prawns in butter and garlic. The prawns were large and perfectly cooked. Shirley had a side of parmesan risotto and I had roasted potatoes. Both were nice accompaniments to our meals. Frank enjoyed the branzino, a nice white fish which was sautéed and served with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes.

There was not a miss-step the whole evening, service, decor, and food were all 5-star. We all agree that this was our best dining experience of the trip and a great way to top off a wonderful Holiday journey to Vienna.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Who's That Lady?

Why it's the Venus of Willendorf, looking simply amazing for a 25,000 year old (she doesn't look a day over 20,000!). Or maybe it's Judith, looking all hot for the Hof (Holofornes that is, not David Hasselhoff!)

These are few of the amazing ladies we were introduced to on our fourth day in Vienna.

The day started, as usual, at the delightful Le Moet Cafe at the Hotel Le Meridien. Then, Shirley, Dick and I got in a red Porsche and sped off to the Belvedere Palace. Ok, it was a Porsche built public transportation tram, but it was red! The Belvedere is a lovely palace with a great view of the city (Belvedere means beautiful view....did not know that). The highlight at the Belvedere is it's room of art by home town boy Gustav Klimt. Most famous is The Kiss, but I was entranced by his Judith I. The biblical heroine is portrayed in a starkly erotic pose, draped in gold, lips parted and eyes aflutter. In her hand is the head of Holofornes. Klimt was a ladies man, but this work indicated he had a healthy fear of women as well. The fact that he followed the works of his contemporary Freud can be seen in the psychological underpinnings in his work.

Lunch was at the venerable Cafe Sperl, and then off to the Natural History Museum to see the Venus of Willendorf. The Venus is a 25,000 year old clay figurine of a voluptuous female form. Most likely, it was used as a fertility idol. It was simply amazing to see a piece of art that ancient. Although small, it represented the height of artistic achievement at that time. Breathtaking.

We capped the day off with an excellent, traditional Viennese dinner at the Rathauskeller in the neo-Gothic city hall. The ornate vaulted ceilings of the cellar provided a romantic backdrop for a fine meal. And, bonus, there was a charming Christmas Market in front of the City Hall to enjoy.

Can't wait what (or who) day five brings!

Frank (filling in for Dick)

Monday, December 6, 2010

City Hall Christmas Tree

Museum Quarter at Night

St. Stephen's Cathedral for Advent Concert

How Do You Warm the Interior of a Gothic Cathedral?

Fill it with a few hundred people and a string quartet with horn for an Advent concert. That is how we concluded our Sunday. The concert was very nice and in a wonderful space.

Earlier in the day we visited the Secession Building, a landmark from the Austrian Art Nouveau period. It houses one of Gustav Klimt's great works, the Beethoven Frieze.

Lunch today was at Sacher Cafe where Shirley and Frank had very good crostini and I enjoyed a couple of "sausages" which look like two foot-long hot dogs, but tasted better. For dessert, Frank ordered the famous Sacher Torte which he proclaimed "dry". I had an average apple strudel, ok but not great and it too was a little dry.

The Opera tour was next on the agenda. We had a guided tour of the interior of the opera house. Unfortunately much of the original structure was destroyed during World War II and was rebuilt in a less ornate style. We were able to visit some of the original intermission lounges so we could see the ornateness of these areas.

On our way to dinner we walked through one of the Christmas Markets, filled with people and vendors. We need to make another visit before we leave.

Dinner was at Witwe Bolte, a very small restaurant on a lovely street. Food was good, service was not, more of an attitude thing than timing. Frank had Wienier Schnitzel which he proclaimed "very good". Shirley and I opted for Roast Suckling Pig which was also very tasty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Musikverein - Interior

Hofburg Palace in the Snow

Splendid Saturday

Splendid it was. We awoke yesterday morning to blue skies and cold temperatures, teens and twenties. Lacking fresh snow, the sidewalks started to clear and walking became less treacherous.

We started the day with breakfast at Le Moet, a small recently opened cafe in the hotel. Next was on to the Hofburg Palace, for a tour of the Habsburg Imperial Apartments. Lavish would be an understatement. The amount of flatwear, plates and serving pieces took up about 1/2 of the tour. The cost of admission includes a very thorough audio guide. A section also focused on Princess Elizabeth, aka Sisi,the wife of Franz Joseph. She of 20" waist and 3' of hair fame.

We had a very nice lunch at Cafe Restaurant Palmenhaus, overlooking the snow covered palace gardens. The restaurant is housed in the old glass palace conservatory.

Next up, the Albertina museum, to see two very well done exhibits of Michelangelo and Picasso. The Michelangelo exhibit focused on his sketches or cartoons. It was interesting to see the sketches in relationship to the finished works. The Picasso exhibit focused on his work during World War II while living in Nazi occupied Paris.

Dinner was at Bistro 59, a small, cute restaurant on the way from the hotel to our evening concert at the Musikverein. Shirley had the traditional wiener schnitzel, while Frank and I enjoyed a simply prepared pan fried pike-perch.

The Musikverein is the premier concert hall in Vienna. The interior is very ornate and the acoustics were excellent. The program included works by Smetana, Schumann and Dvorak.

It was a full and splendid day in Vienna.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Vienna is covered in snow. The streets and sidewalks are covered in slush, which makes navigating the city a little difficult but worth every cautious step. After a short nap upon our arrival at the hotel, we ventured out to roam the city and fine some lunch. We had a wonderful lunch at italic, a nice Italian restaurant just off the main pedestrian drag.

After lunch we visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, the large gothic church in the heart of Vienna. We will return there on Sunday evening for an Advent concert.

A highlight of our first day was when we walked out of the hotel at 6:00 PM to see the large flakes of snow illuminated in the lights of the city. Very beautiful.

And a big thanks to Paul & Libby for the hotel recommendation, Le Meridien. It is a great centrally located, hip hotel.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Downtown Vienna in the Snow

Arrival at Vienna Airport


IAD is airport speak for Washington Dulles. I think it must have been designed by the same crew that runs the government. The major problem is getting from gate A to gate B. In my prior trips through Dulles my arrival gate was always as far away as possible from the departure gate. But at least they were in the same terminal building. Not today, Mr. Grumpy. No, we arrived at a gate in Terminal C and departed from Terminal B. Next door? No way! More like a 20 - 30 minute separation covered by multiple methods of transportation. First up was an elevated bus like creature that was packed full like standing sardines. This was followed by a series of up and down escalator rides to the underground train. After more escalators we finally arrived at gate B41 where cousin Shirley was waiting. It is wonderful to see her again and to have her join Frank and me in this journey to Vienna.

A glass of wine and 40 minutes later we boarded Austrian Air flight 94. Although we are in the back of the bus, the flight is only about 60% full. Economy seating is a 2 - 3 - 2 configuration. Shirley as 2 seats to herself, and Frank and I have 3 seats so there is some extra room - very nice I say.

Time to stop typing; I see the drink and food carts coming down the aisle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vienna Weather Forecast for Friday Arrival

High 24 F
Low 12 F
Light Snow

Long Underwear... check!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Making My List & Checking It Twice

Christmas List? No, just a packing list. Yes the travel bug has struck again and we are off to Vienna, Austria on Thursday. Can you say COLD? We being Frank, my cousin Shirley and me. Shirley and I were in Vienna a few years ago to start our "find some of Shirley's relatives in Romania" quest. We did, but that is another story. 

I cannot imagine anything that would put us in the Christmas spirit like walking the snow covered streets of Vienna searching for a Christmas Market, and attending an Advent Concert in St. Stephen's Cathedral. 

Check back periodically for updates from the trip. Now, do I have everything I need on my list? Hat? Check; Scarf? Check; Gloves? Check... and more! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in a Bowl

Thanksgiving Eve to be more precise and our dinner was just like Thanksgiving in a Bowl. As is our custom, Frank came over and we shared Thanksgiving Eve together. The menu included:

  • Butternut Squash Soup with Creme Fraiche, Croutons, and Chives
  • Turkey Risotto with Cranberry Chutney - hence Thanksgiving in a Bowl
  • Sauteed Spinach with Bacon and Pine Nuts
  • Three-Ginger Chevre Tart
The menu was inspired by a Thanksgiving menu in Wine Spectator. To reduce the work effort we took a few shortcuts, like buying fresh Butternut Squash Soup from Fresh Market and using jarred Spiced Cranberry-Apple Chutney from Silver Palette. We also, at my request, opted for spinach over the kale in the article. (Yes, I grew up in Ohio and still have a problem eating those Southern staples like kale, and the assorted greens - what can I say). 

We raided the Oregon wine stash, starting with an Argyle 2007 Black Brut (Pinot Noir) Sparkling wine, which was outstanding with the soup. With the main course we opened a WillaKenzie Estate Gamay Noir, which we both thought paired perfectly with the Turkey Risotto and would also go well with a traditional Thanksgiving feast. 

So back to the Thanksgiving in a bowl... the risotto had all the traditional flavors of a Thanksgiving dinner. Obviously there was the turkey, from two thighs I roasted the day before. The "dressing" came through in the celery and sage that was used. And the cranberry chutney added the sweet and tart flavor of a typical cranberry sauce. The rice filled in nicely for the potatoes and carried all the other flavors to the palette. 

To complete the meal, I made a Three-Ginger Chevre Tart from the same article. While I found the crust a little difficult to work with, the end result turned out very tasty. 

It was a perfect Thanksgiving Eve dinner. 

Butternut Squash Soup with Croutons, Creme Fraiche
and Chives

Turkey Risotto with Cranberry Chutney
and Sauteed Spinach with Bacon & Pine Nuts
Next stop is Biff's (my nephew) home in Bradenton for what is always a wonderful family Thanksgiving Day Feast with three turkeys (of the poultry kind), and a couple turkeys of the human kind. (Names not released to protect this blogger) - Just kidding Mike ! :-)

Here are the original recipes from Wine Spectator.

Turkey Risotto with Fresh Sage and Cranberry Chutney
Serves 4 to 6.
Risotto is one of those dishes, like soup, bread salad and gumbo, that provides a perfect canvas for leftover holiday turkey. But you needn’t wait until after Thanksgiving to enjoy this dish. As the holidays approach, markets begin to stock fresh turkey, sold both whole and in pieces. And because turkey breast is the most popular cut, the more flavorful thighs, legs and wings are generally readily available at a good price. Simply roast a couple of thighs, a leg and a wing or two, reserve the best of the meat and simmer the meaty bones to make a simple stock. Cranberry chutney adds a spicy warmth and enhances the dish’s compatibility with a variety of wines.
7 to 8 cups homemade turkey stock
3 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
1 celery rib, minced
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
2 cups cooked turkey, preferably thigh meat, shredded
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
Black pepper in a mill
3 ounces (3/4 cup) dry Jack cheese, grated
Fresh sage leaves, for garnish
Cranberry Chutney, commercial or homemade*
Pour the turkey stock into a saucepan, set over medium heat and when it begins to boil, reduce the heat to low so that it barely simmers. Melt the butter in a large deep saucepan set over medium low heat. Add the shallots and celery and cook slowly until soft and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown. Season with salt and stir in the rubbed sage.
Add the rice and sauté¦ for 2 minutes, stirring all the while, or until each grain begins to turn milky white. Add 1/2 cup of the stock and stir constantly until it is absorbed, adjusting the heat as needed so that it is neither too high nor too low; the stock should simmer but not boil. Continue to add stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice swells and is just tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.
When there is about 1/2 cup of the stock remaining, fold in the turkey and the sage. Add half of the remaining stock, taste, season with salt and pepper and stir in the cheese. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining stock.
To serve: Ladle into warm soup plates and garnish with fresh sage leaves and a spoonful of chutney. Serve immediately. 
*Note: There are several brands of cranberry chutney on the market, such as Stonewall Kitchen’s (stonewallkitchen.com), which is among the best. It is also easy to it make at home.
Wine recommendations: The creamy delicacy of the rice combined with the earthy flavor of turkey, the perfume of the sage and the sweet tang of cranberries suggest an equally complex and delicate red wine. Something luscious yet light, lest the subtle qualities of the dish be eclipsed. Pinot Noir from California’s coastal vineyards provides the best possibilities. Ridgeway Family Vineyards 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, from a small vineyard in southwestern Petaluma, is a stellar match.
For a more playful, lighthearted match, consider Beaujolais Nouveau, an exuberant companion to cranberries.

Lacinato Kale with Bacon & Pine Nuts
Serves 6 - 8
Lacinato kale, also known as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale and cavolo nero, has a husky, almost meat-like depth of flavor and a texture that is sturdier, even when tender, than other winter greens. These qualities, combined with the smokiness of the bacon in this recipe, make a perfect counterpoint to the creamy risotto.
3 bunches (about 21/2 pounds) lacinato kale
5 bacon slices, preferably dry-cured
1 shallot, minced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
Red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Use a sharp paring knife to remove the stems and tough ribs from the kale. Cut the leaves into 2-inch-wide crosswise slices. Put the cut leaves into a large colander; rinse but do not dry as you want water to cling to the leaves. Set aside.
Fry the bacon in a large deep sauté pan until crisp; transfer to absorbent paper to drain. (Once cool, crumble the bacon.) Pour off all but about 1/3 cup of the bacon fat, return the pan to medium heat, add the shallot and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Season with salt and 2 or 3 pinches of pepper flakes. Add the kale and sauté for about 2 minutes, stirring all the while. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until the kale is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes; uncover and stir now and then.
Remove from the heat. Fold in the lemon zest, half the bacon and half the pine nuts, taste and correct for salt. Transfer to a serving bowl, scatter the remaining bacon and pine nuts on top and serve. Serves 6 to 8.
Wine recommendations: Kale is almost always a side dish and as such, should be taken into consideration when selecting a wine for the main course. Lacinato kale’s texture, which is rich and velvety, engages well with most Pinot Noir and the bacon in this particular preparation furthers the resonance. Should this dish take center stage on your table, you can stick with a Pinot Noir or shift to a plush white wine, such as Peter Michael Winery Cuvée Indigene Chardonnay.

If you use spinach in lieu of kale, skip the first step, and reduce the cooking time for the spinach to about 2 minutes , or until just wilted.

Three-Ginger Chèvre Tart with a Spiced Walnut Crust
This tart is thin, elegant and perfumed with three kinds of ginger, fresh, ground and candied. It unfolds on the palate in layer upon layer of flavor, qualities that engage beautifully with the Madeira that accompanies it.
For the crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup, packed, light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling
10 ounces fresh Chèvre, such as Chabis
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger

To make the crust: Put the butter, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, clove and ground ginger into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse several times, until well blended. Add the vanilla and the walnuts and pulse until the walnuts are evenly incorporated into the butter mixture; use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the flour and pulse several times, until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Clean the work bowl and blade. Preheat the oven to 400.F.
Press the chilled dough into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool thoroughly.
To make the filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 350.F. Put the Chèvre, sugar, egg and egg yolk into the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the cream and fresh ginger and pulse until just smooth; do not over process.
Spread the candied ginger over the surface of the crust, pour the Chèvre custard over the candied ginger and agitate the tart pan very gently to even it out, if needed. Set the tart on a baking sheet and set the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the custard is firm and the top is pale gold.
Remove from the oven, let cool for about 15 minutes and remove the ring of the tart pan. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.
Wine recommendations: This rich, fragrant dessert, with its layers of ginger, wants something slightly lean on the palate, yet elegant and engaging. You can’t go wrong with a well-aged Madeira but fans of single-malt Scotch, especially those of Islay, will be delighted by the flirtatious resonance of the match. Try Laphroaig 15 Year Old.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy Thanksgiving. 
Thanksgiving Eve Dinner at Home

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Visitor from Afar

Deirdre, my good friend from Philadelphia, has been visiting here the past few days. I know, Philadelphia isn't THAT far, only a 2 hour, 20 minute flight. It was really nice to see her and show her a little more of my city. We decided that we were mimicking my cats, eat, nap,  eat, nap again, etc. And eat we did. The first night I fixed pasta bolognese with a caprese salad. 

Lunch the next day was at the nice MFA Cafe, at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. I really like the cafe. It has a nice variety of lunch entrees, salads, and sandwiches. And their soup of the day is always good. We both had the "Demi" a half Turkey and Cold Slaw sandwich and a bowl of soup. I had the Creamy Leek soup while Deirdre had the Creamy Tomato soup. This was followed by a visit to the Chihuly Collection, which is always a fun visit. Dinner this day was at St.Pete Brasserie on Central Avenue. This is my favorite French restaurant downtown. We started with a very tasty Alsacien Onion Tart. For my entree I ordered the Grilled Tuna Provencal with Tomato, Olive & Fennel Sauce and a side of Haricot Vert. (Bob, those would be small green beans).  Unfortunately I do not remember what Deirdre ordered. Maybe she will refresh my memory by adding a comment. One of the nice features at St. Pete Brasserie is that many of their entrees are offered in small or full portions. 

The Looper... St. Petersburg has a couple of trolley lines serving the downtown and Central Avenue area. Since I moved here I have talked about ridding the Downtown Looper from the stop closest to me and stay on for the entire loop. Well, that is how Deirdre and I got around town on Friday, but we got off to have lunch at The Moon Under Water. The driver provides commentary throughout the ride, and the best part is the cost, only 25 cents every time you board. It was a fun little excursion on a beautiful day.

Hoping off the Looper on Beach Drive, we were at The Moon Under Water. This is a English-style pub with curries and typical pub fare (Fish and Chips, Sheppard's Pie, etc). While not a "wow" place, it has served consistently good food and if dining outside you overlook the lovely Straub Park. I enjoyed the Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, although I personally found it to be more food than I needed (with an side of French Fries) so I skipped much of the bread. The chicken curry was good. Deirdre enjoyed the batter fried cod fingers (who knew they had fingers?). A friend of mine recommended the Chicken Pot Pie as being exceptionally good, and nicely presented, but I failed to remember this until tonight as I was reviewing the menu. Also, while we had good service, there were a couple of indicators that they may have occasional service problems. We walked by the outdoor seating the day before and heard a couple comment, "She doesn't deserve a tip". Then as we were being seated, two women at a nearby table were getting up and leaving with a comment to the hostess that "No one ever came over to take our order." This brought no reaction from the hostess. Our experience was much better.

Frank, Biff (my nephew) and Butch joined us for dinner at Ceviche, a wonderful tapas restaurant on Beach Drive at Central. Each of us ordered a separate item and then shared around the table. Their Sangria is great, and we consumed our fare share.

More food was on tap for Saturday, but this time we traveled to Mount Dora to visit with our friend Carol and show Deirdre this northern-looking central Florida town. Lunch was a One Flight Up followed by a walk around town. For dinner, Carol had booked us at Saucy Bistro, previously reviewed in this blog. Our prior visit was on their opening day when there were a couple of minor, but not unexpected for opening day, glitches. This visit was much smoother, and the food was just as good. The bistro is owned by the Beth Lee who also runs the highly respected Saucy Spoon Catering. The restaurant is only open on Friday (for light bites) and Saturday (full blown menu) and Sunday brunch. The "help yourself" appetizer, cheese and salad table had a nice selection of great cheeses. For dinner we were joined by Shirley and John (from Worthing, England and Mount Dora FL) and another good Mount Dora friend, June. Our entrees included chicken breast in pastry, bone-in hand cut pork loin chop with a lovely onion sauce, and salmon in papillote (baked in parchment paper). The side dishes are served family-style and included a huge platter of roasted vegetables, and great mashed potatoes. Everyone was very pleased with their meal. I think this is one of the best restaurants in Mount Dora.

It has been a very busy four days, but highly enjoyable. Now it is time to get ready for our Thanksgiving Eve dinner. More on that later.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

183/250 Untitled

Paul & Libby, of Paul & Libby's World of Travel fame (see Blogs I Follow in the right sidebar), came over on Saturday to introduce Frank and me to their 9 month old daughter, Emerson, and to have lunch. Hard to believe that we have not met Emerson before this. She is adorable, and extremely well behaved. We had a nice lunch at the new Bella Brava location on Beach Drive. 

Paul also brought me a wonderful Victor Vasarely limited edition print (Untitled - 1970) which I love and am very grateful for Paul's kind generosity. He snagged multiple copies of this print in an art auction, and kindly decided to share one of the copies with me. I have print #183 out of 250. Very neat, I say. The photograph does not do it justice. I will post another photo after it has been framed and hung in my study (aka "The Red Room"). You can view Paul's other gift to me, a painting he created just for The Red Room, by clicking here.
 Untitled - 1970
Victor Vasarely
Thank you Paul & Libby. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dough, Re, Me

Who knew... the one time I don't include a recipe in the post, I get multiple requests to share it. First, I figured any of my regular readers who might make their own dough, probably had their own recipe. Second, it is a BASIC recipe. I am sure there are many others out there. If you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, please included it in a comment. 

Here is the Basic Pizza Dough Recipe from Biba Caggiano.

Basic Pizza Dough
From Biba’s Italian Kitchen by Biba Caggiano

1 ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in ½ plus 2 tablespoons of lukewarm (100 – 120 degrees)
1-tablespoon olive oil
1-teaspoon salt

Makes 1-12 inch pizza (approx)_

Made by Hand:
Put all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix well with your hands until incorporated. Put the dough on a work surface and kneed 5 to 6 minutes or until the dough is smooth and pliable. If it seems a bit sticky, knead in a little more flour. Dust the dough lightly with flour and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a moist kitchen towel or with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise, 1 – 1 ½ hours. At this point the dough should have doubled in volume, be springy, and have small gas bubbles all over its surface.

Made in Electric Mixer:
Put the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the dissolved yeast, oil, and salt and with the dough hook, mix well at medium-low speed until all ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to high and knead the dough 4 to 5 minutes. Dust the dough lightly with flour and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a moist kitchen towel or with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise, 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Made with Food Processor
Put the flour and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the dissolved yeast and the oil and pulse the machine on and off until the dough is loosely gathered around the blade. Remove the dough from and knead it by hand 2 to 3 minutes. Dust the dough lightly with flour and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a moist kitchen towel or with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise, 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven at 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes. Form pizza, top and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pizza! Pizza!

Margarita pizza was on the menu last night at home. For the first time in years, I made my own pizza dough. Easy it is, and a little better than the fresh dough I have been using from the Publix bakery. I like my pizza on the thin side, and this came out crispy on the outside and light and chewy on the inside. I was very pleased with my crust. 

A Margarita pizza is simply topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil. I used an uncooked tomato sauce made from canned San Marzano tomatoes, seeds removed and minus the puree from the can; adding garlic, fresh mozzarella cheese (get the freshest you can), and fresh basil. I picked up the uncooked sauce idea from an old Julia Child show. While it was very good and fresh tasting, I think I prefer a cooked sauce for more richness and depth of flavor. So next time I will start the same way, but simmer on the stove top for a while, maybe add a touch of red wine, and some tomato paste. 

I was also very pleased that I ended up with an almost round pizza. Many of my prior pies look more like the state of Iowa. But, it is all about the flavor, not the shape.

The finished pizza:

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lacuna

Lacuna is a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus (from http://dictionary.reference.com)

The Lacuna is a book by Barbara Kingsolver which I just finished. Is was a powerful read. But that is just my opinion as the reviews I read are mixed. This historical novel covers the period from 1929 to 1959 following the life of Harrison Shepard (fictional character) from his early years in Mexico through to his time in Asheville, NC then back to Mexico. The "historical" part is based on his relationship with and employment by real-life artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and Lev Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. This relationship lands him before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Enough of the story line. 

I found it powerful and engaging since a lot of the book could just as well be referring to our current political environment. Maybe not to the same degree as the time period in the book, but there is still some commonality. For example, if it is in the paper (and now on the TV and the Internet) it must be accurate regardless of the facts. Guilt by association - again regardless of facts. Discrimination based on a label assigned to a person; then Communist, Black, or Gay; now Muslim, Immigrant and still race and sexual orientation to some extent. 

I guess the book spoke to my own liberal biases, whether it was Mrs. Kingsolver's intent or not.

I liked the book and would highly recommend it to others.

That is just my 2 cents in this normally non-political blog. And trust me, the blog will stay that way.