Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

I don't want to let Thanksgiving end without a few final thoughts. 

First I am extremely lucky and thankful to have a cadre of friends and family supporting me through my health related issues. I am also thankful that I am still able to travel, and enjoy life. While there are an amazing number of family and friends who I thank, it is too many to list everyone, but you are all in my thoughts and best wishes for a great holiday season. One person who will not go unmentioned is my best friend, Frank. He is always there to give me support and encouragement and he is a great person and a fun traveler. THANK YOU, FRANK!

So it was appropriate that we started the Thanksgiving season with our annual Thanksgiving Eve dinner. We nailed another fine meal at my place. If anyone wants recipes let me know. The only one I will post is the Lemon Panna Cotta, at the end of this post which is my favorite dessert for any occasion. Try it, you can't go wrong.

Frank refers to this as our Italian American Thanksgiving and it was really good. Our main bird was a Roasted Rosemary Turkey Breast coated with a seasoned butter mixture of rosemary, sage, garlic and orange zest. For our sides we prepared an uncooked Cranberry and Blood Orange Relish (unfortunately, no blood oranges were available, so our back up was regular oranges but excellent just the same. Next up was a Butternut Squash Risotto (yummy) and Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta - both were great. We ended the meal with the Lemon Panna Cotta. We served a bottle of St. Supery Elu with dinner and a glass of Limoncello with the dessert. It was a great meal with a great friend.

On Thanksgiving Day we each went to our respective families - Frank to his sister's and I to my nephew's. Everyone, (except me) pitched in to prepare a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving spread. They had turkey two ways - one traditionally roasted in the oven and the other deep fried. Both were very flavorful and moist - good job everyone. For sides we had mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, my Mother's Creamed Corn Casserole. This is a tradition in the Simpson family since the 1950's and is a must serve at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The dinner was finished off with 3 different home baked pies - oink oink.

On Friday evening Frank and I attended "This is The 60's" at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg. The show was a multi-media presentation with a live cast of singers, musicians and dancers - only 7 in all. They presented a fun-filled evening of 60's songs, film clips and TV shows from the decade. We both enjoyed the show but feel they slighted the folk movement and the Mo-Town sound. However with so much music coming out of the decade I am sure they had a tough time selecting the tunes. 

Next up, to round out the weekend, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at our favorite French Restaurant  - St. Petersburg Brasserie downtown on Central Ave. Frank loved his Steak Frites and I was gushing over the Roasted Duck Breast served with Celeriac Rosti, Spicy Cherry Gastrique. OMG, have I mentioned how good it was. Both Frank's steak and my duck were perfectly cooked to a rare degree of doneness. We paired the meal with a very nice bottle of 2010 Shooting Star Pinot Noir from Stelle Vineyards in California.

That's it for Thanksgiving 2012 - Thanks one more time to my family and friends - I am truly a lucky guy.

As promised - the LEMON PANNA COTTA recipe follows. I skip the sauce and serve it with fresh raspberries.

Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce

For convenience, chill these individual eggless custards overnight before serving. The sauce can also be made a day ahead.
Yield: Makes 6 servings

Panna cotta
Vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup crème fraîche*
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel

3 cups frozen blackberries (about 12 ounces), thawed, drained, juices reserved
3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons crème de cassis (black-currant-flavored liqueur; optional)
For panna cotta:
Lightly oil six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups. Mix milk and cream in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Cover; let steep 30 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
Pour lemon juice into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Stir sugar and gelatin mixture into milk mixture. Stir over low heat just until sugar and gelatin dissolve, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in crème fraîche and lemon peel. Divide among ramekins. Cover; chill until set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

For sauce:
Puree 2/3 of blackberries and all reserved juices, brown sugar, and crème de cassis, if desired, in blender. Strain mixture into medium bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids in strainer. Stir remaining blackberries into sauce. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
Run small knife around each panna cotta. Place bottoms of ramekins, 1 at a time, in bowl of hot water 45 seconds. Place plate atop ramekin. Hold plate and ramekin together; invert, shaking gently, to turn out panna cotta. Serve with sauce.

That's all I'm Saying !

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dick & Frank's Fantastic Fall Foliage Adventure

So it is that time again, our photographic followup to our last cruise. Hopefully you have read the blog, especially the hits and misses. I have set up two albums on Picasa with a lot of frustration - no thanks to Google and Picasa. Grrrrrrr   :-(

The first is a short version with 30 photographs culled from the original 200 +.
Dick & Frank's Fantastic Fall Foliage Tour - Short Version

The second is an extended version, consisting of 94 photographs. 
If you get bored easily with other people's vacation photos, I would opt for the short version.

The majority of photographs were taken by Frank. I owe him a big THANK YOU, for frequently taking the time to search out the sights when I was getting fatigued and I didn't feel like walking any more. So, he was the primary photographer and I was the editor. Good work Frank!

Your comments would be appreciated and please report any problems with the links

We hope you enjoy the photographs

Dick and Frank

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Miguel's is French

Tucked away in a corner of a non-descript strip mercantile building on Siesta Key, FL you will find an excellent French restaurant. This was our first visit to Miguel's (link) based on a recommendation our dining companions from New Jersey had received from someone in their condo complex. Eileen and Michael were visiting for a week and met up with Frank and me at this 25 year-old restaurant for a fine evening of dining and reminiscing The decor is traditional and rustic - a charming space that was packed with locals when we arrived for 7 PM reservations. (Note - I would always make reservations here especially in the season. They offer Early Bird specials which attracts a large crowd earlier in the evening. It is Sarasota of course.)

Naturally, the menu leans heavily to the French side, while they do have a few Italian items for the early birds. 

Some of us started the meal with La Soupe du Jour a wonderfully rich and flavorful Sweet Potato Bisque. From the Entree menu I opted for the Lamb Shank, the special for the day. I want more :-). It was cooked to perfection with a lovely dark sauce - tender and moist, I cleaned my plate. It was served with potatoes that had been roasted with the lamb which added a great flavor to the potatoes. 

Frank order Le Canard Roti Maison - roasted young duckling served with a l'orange sauce. I had a taste and would agree with Frank that it was top notch - again tender, moist, and tasty.

Eileen enjoyed her Le Boeuf Diane - beef tenderloin tips nicely sauteed with mushrooms, garlic, brandy and demi-glace served with puff pastry. 

Michael selected Le Petit Filet Mignon, a nice 6 oz steak, with a béarnaise sauce.  He proclaimed to meal to be great.

We expected the meal to be pricey, but with drinks, soup, entrees, house salad, dessert, and coffee/espresso the bill came to $50 per person. Not bad in my opinion for this quality of dining.

We were all very pleased with the entire dining experience at Miguel's and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Sarasota area. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Political Statement on my Non-Political Blog

I am trying this one last time. I keep having problems only posting the audio portion so I found the You tube link.  I was just trying to find a song that expresses my joy at yesterday's election results. Skip the lead-in ad and move on to the song.

Click Here

or here ---:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall Foliage Cruise - Hits and Misses

It's that time folks!  Our post vacation wrap-up with trip hits and misses!

So let's get started:

Dick (onboard) - Le Bistro, the up-charge French restaurant.  I had a lovely duck two ways (roast duck breast cooked perfectly and a moist confit of duck leg with crispy skin).  Nicely seasoned and presented.

Frank (onboard) - Bamboo, the up-charge Asian restaurant.  I had a Cantonese style chicken dish.  MUCH better than something you would get at PF Changs or the usual Sino-American establishment.  I'm not talking authentic here, but an admirable attempt just the same.

Dick (off ship) - TOAST! (Quebec City) - Had an amazing selection of appetizer sized plates.  My deer tartare was unusual, ultra-local, and surprisingly light in addition to being tasty.  The restaurant is connected to the Hotel Le Priori, which is also a very nice establishment, for those who may be looking for room and board in QC.

Frank (off ship) - I have to give it up to TOAST! as well.  I have never had sweetbreads (and, although I loved them, probably will never again), but the idea of pairing them with seared scallops as an ersatz surf and turf was genius.  The whole place is genius, really.  A bit of a splurge, but fun, cutting edge and definitely stylish!

Dick (onboard) - La Cucina, the up-charge Italian restaurant.  The osso buco I had was fall off the bone tender, and flavorful.  Alora, it was over-salted.  So close, and yet so far!  That's amore...

Frank (onboard) - Aqua, the main dining room.  If you EVER see holiday turkey with all the trimmings on a cruise ship menu, waddle to another dining spot cause it's not gonna be the type of meal momma would server on turkey day.  This was a big disappointment.  I have had better turkey dinners from a microwave.  In all fairness, I shouldn't have expected a real roast turkey from what is basically a catering environment.  But still, a little more thought than warming up a Jenny-O turkey roll would have been appreciated.

Dick - However, in defense of Aqua, I had a VERY nice whole lobster on the first night, which Frank did not order.  So BOO-YA!

Dick (off ship) - No misses off the ship, other than $10 bucks for a lox and bagel in Peggy's Cove seemed a bit excessive (it was good lox, though).

Frank (off ship) - The food poisoning I got at the Carrabba's at the Tampa Airport when we got back from our trip.  Not a great way to cap a wonderful trip.

Dick - Much of what we saw was very dramatic, and I enjoyed it very much.  There was still some color in the trees, which made for pleasant drives on the tour buses at each port.  But, I guess my overall favorite sight was Peggy's Cove.  I had visited years before, but enjoyed it as much this time as the last.

Frank - Well, my favorite sight is always seeing Simpson at the ship buffet beaming over a full bowl of ice cream (such a happy face!).  But, other than that, I really loved PEI and Quebec City.  Of all we had seen, those two spots would be the ones I would return to.

Dick - La Baie - This was my least favorite port of call.  It was a nice city, but really had nothing to offer in terms of significant sights.

Frank - Have to agree.  If you weren't into high-impact sports (zodiac rafting, etc.) or a narcolepsy inducing faux-folk extravaganza, you were kind of out of luck.  In all fairness, there were excursions to a National Park, which I am sure was lovely.  But not for us on this go round.

Ship Board entertainment:
Dick - While we did not attend any of the "Vegas" (quotation marks intentional) style productions in the main theater, we had the pleasure of realizing that our favorite performer from a prior cruise was on board, Nathaniel Reed.  He sings standards and modern pop and soul.  If you ever get a chance to see his Motown Revue, don't miss it!

Frank - I will give special mention to the folk strains of the three piece Celtic Umbrella.  One of the members was from PEI!  Listening to Scotch, Irish and Canadian music on piano and fiddle with vocals was lovely.  But my favorite entertainment was watching the rowdy drunks come to happy hour from 4-6 every night at the pub.  Two for one beers and wine and even some cocktails.  Nothing comes between an octogenarian and their scooter and two bloody marys.  Look twice or you are road kill!

BTW, I went there for observational purposes only, you nasty people!

General Comments:
Dick - Not surprisingly, we had only a couple of chilly and windy days, with temps in the low 30's and feels likes in the low 20's.  Mostly though, in the 50's and 60's with PLENTY of sunshine in Quebec City.

Also, back to the food.  One of the reasons I have always been reluctant in the past about cruises is my low expectations about the level of food quality at the main dining rooms, let alone the prospect of having to dine with complete strangers at a big table at a fixed time every night.  NCL has the up-charge restaurants, which I have always found to be good.  I ate much more often at the main dining rooms this time, and I was surprised at the quality of the food, and the ability to be seated at two tops with no problems or lengthy waits.

Frank - I really loved being able to see Canada, for the very first time.  I enjoyed all the ports.  Really thought the people were great (ok, so I got into a scuffle with the Canadian Customs guys, but I wasn't on my meds and had a bad day.  Details in my forthcoming memoir).  All in all though, it was a GREAT trip, good memories, and of course, good company.

Dick - I must agree with Frank, it was a great cruise, with colorful scenery, and delicious food.

Until the next trip, that's all folks...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lost But Now He is Found

I don't know where he was, but this guy missed the photo op last night. I found him hiding with other photographs - now it is his turn. But again, what is he? Any suggestions?