Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Salad
1 butternut squash, cut into ¾-inch round slices, halved again
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, ends cut off, cut in half
4 - 5 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2C wheat berries, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, drained
3C wild arugula leaves
1/2C whole almonds, toasted
4 – 5 oz. shaved pecorino romano cheese

2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey mustard
6 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Toss the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and set aside.  Preheat oven to 375F.  Toss the butternut squash pieces with half the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender, turning once, about 25 minutes.  Let cool and cut into halves again.

Toss the Brussels sprouts, remaining olive oil, salt and pepper to taste on a cookie sheet and roast in the 375F oven, cut sides down, until tender, about 20 minutes.  Let cool.

Place the wheat berries in a small pan, cover with chicken stock or water and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain.

Toss the vegetables and wheat berries together with vinaigrette to coat.  Add the arugula, cheese and almonds and toss again.  Serve at room temperature.
MAKES:  8 servings

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brie en Croute with dried cherries, pecans and honey
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed out in the refrigerator
8 oz. wheel of brie, top rind removed
2 Tbsp. dried cherries, softened in hot water for 2 minutes, drained
   and patted dry
1/4C toasted hazelnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. honey
egg glaze:  1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 400F.  Roll out puff pastry to a 14-inch square.  Place brie in the center.  Mix the cherries, hazelnuts and honey together and press into the top of the brie.  Gather up the opposite corners of the puff pastry at the top of the brie to make a little package.  Brush with egg glaze.  Make a few slits in the edges with a knife.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  Let rest 30 – 40 minutes.  Serve with crackers

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Butternut Squash soup with sautéed apples and white cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, thinly sliced
3/4C apple cider
1-3/4 lb. butternut squash
4-1/2C chicken stock
1/2C cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 McIntosh apple, cut into ½-inch dice
1/3C coarsely shredded white cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut butternut squash in quarters and place, cut sides down, in a glass dish.  Roast 30 minutes or until tender.  Let cool, remove seeds and scoop of the flesh.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a pan; add the onions and sauté until golden.  Add the apple cider and cook until syrupy.  Add the squash puree and chicken stock and bring to a boil, simmer, slightly covered until vegetables are very tender.  Puree the soup in a food processor and return to the pan.  Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Heat a small sauté pan, add the butter and diced apple and cook over medium high heat until the apple is tender and golden around the edges.  Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with white cheddar, sautéed apples and Italian parsley.
MAKES:  6 servings

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sicily, Italy, September, 2014
Arrived in Palermo about 7:00 a.m. on the overnight ferry from Naples.  Walked to Liberta (www.bedandbreakfastliberta.it), my little b&b, which was only 10 minutes from the porto, left my luggage, picked up a map and set out to see Palermo.

First stop, a pastry shop!!!  Had a delicious little apple pastry and coffee and then walked down the main street to the Antonio Pasqualino Museum of Marionettes.  It was a wonderful museum filled with shadow puppets from India, small ones from Indonesia, puppets from Indian, Africa and Japan and even a little stage where you could watch a video of the famous Sicilian Pipi puppets. 

On down into the historical part of town where I visited some churches and the Vucciria market which actually has gotten quite small.  THE market to visit is actually the Ballaro Market filled with fruits and vegetables which I decided to visit in the morning.  Back to V. Emanuele street to the famous quattro canti, baroque buildings, with near-identical facades which contain fountains and statues of the four seasons.  Also walked by the enormously gorgeous fountain in piazza Pretoria designed in Florence in 1554 for a villa but acquired by Palermo 20 years later. 

Next stop the Duomo (cathedral), a massive structure but very beautiful inside.  I first visited the treasury with its rich vestments, chalices and the bejeweled cap-like crown of Constance of Aragon and then the crypt containing about 20 marble tombs with elaborate sculptures.  Took a break at a little café for a honey croissant and then on to the Capella Palalina in the Palazzo Reale.  Considered the apex of the Arabe-Norman collective genius it was built from 1130 to 1140 and adorned with Byzantine mosaics.  Reminded me of the Russian and Turkish churches with every part of the walls and ceiling covered with beautiful mosaics representing different saints, etc.  At one time it was the king’s chapel – really amazing. 
I thought about taking a tour of theTeatro Massimo but then decided I had seen enough for one day and returned to the hotel.  Checked into an adorable little room and then Carmen and her husband told me about some other things I should see and later sent to off to one of their favorite restaurants, Osteria Mercere.  It was close but a bit too modern for me.  I ordered a half portion of spaghetti with clams and mussels and grilled fish, both were delicious. 

In the morning I walked to the Ballero Market which took up about three streets and was filled with fresh fruit and vegetable stands.  Delicious breakfast on the terrace when I returned to the hotel, i.e. ricotta filled croissant, strong coffee and melon.  Carmen called my hotel in Taormina to get directions and off I went to pick up the rental car.  It took about 4 hours to get to the Castelmola exit and I drove up and up until I found Villa Almoezia.  The owner was delightful and helped me park my car, showed me where to walk down to the historical center and made a reservation at the restaurant nearby!!!

ALOT of stone steps down into the town and as I was just about to reach the main street I walked through the terrace of a restaurant and saw some guests eating what looked like delicious tiramisu.  Sooo, I sat down at a little table and ordered one for myself.  It was delicious, especially with a tiny cup of strong coffee after such a long drive.

Walked along the cobbled streets through little shops, old churches like St. Catherine’s, small piazzas to the Duomo outside of which music was being played by some fiddlers.  Wandered through the lovely villa communal gardens created by a Scottish lady who was “invited” to leave England after a well-publicized romance with the future King Edward VIII, son of Queen Victoria.  There is also a Greek ampitheatre to visit as well.  I walked back up to my hotel before it got too dark and sat outside and enjoyed the panorama – it was lovely.  A cat even came by and sat on my lap for a bit – felt like home.
So Glad I didn’t have to walk down all those stairs again in the dark to find a restaurant and instead just walked 5 minutes to where my host had suggested I dine.  I sat at outside on the terrace overlooking the town and ordered a half portion of pasta with eggplant, swordfish and pine nuts with a side dish of arugula to mix in.  It was delicious as everything seems to be here, especially with such a view.

Walked around Castelmola in the morning and had some Italian cakes for breakfast which were a bit dry and uninteresting for such a lovely place…It was raining a bit when I left but by the time I reached the Parco Archeologico della Napoli in Siracusa it was a lovely day.  Parked the car somewhere near the entrance and spent a couple hours wandering to the Teatro Greco with its seats hewn from rock, the paradise quarry where many of the stones were hauled from to erect the great monuments of Syracuse and the very interesting Cave Caravaggio dubbed “Ear of Dionysius” because of its unusual shape.  Nearly 200 feet long, the story goes that the despot Dionysius used it to force prisoners into the “ear” at night.  On to the roman amphitheatre where gladiators faced each other and slaves died fighting wild beasts…

Across the bridge and over to the Ortygia Island where I stayed.  Finding a parking place was a very big challenge but I did succeed!  Found Atrio, my very nice b&b and then set out to wander the island.  First stop was Viola for a jam pie slice and coffee and then to Piazza Duoma and piazza Archimede with its lovely baroque fountain festooned with dancing jets of water and sea nymphs.  Followed the “shore” and ended up at the teatro dei pupi for my 6:30 p.m. puppet show.  I had ordered a ticket in advance and was glad I did as there was quite a line of people trying to buy tickets.  It was a traditional story of a man on a quest and the marionettes were about 5 feet high.  Music was a bit strange but from my second row seat it was wonderful!!!  Afterwards I had a very tasty dinner at le vin de l’assassin bistrot, sitting at an outside table, i.e. salmon with pistachio crust, couscous with nuts and dried fruits and a few greens – excellent.

Walked around the island in the morning and then had a wonderful breakfast outside on the terrace, chocolate croissant, different Italian pastries and cookies, melon and grapes and, of course, the robust Italian coffee.  Headed to Arigento but first stopped in Noto, considered to be one of the most beautifully built cities in Europe.   I wandered down corso vittorio emanuele to piazza municipio housing the large duomo and the palazzio viddadorata with its extravagant balconies supported by sculptured buttresses of horses, cherubs, etc. and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the old city. 

Arrived in Agrigento about 4 p.m.  I had taken a couple cookies from breakfast and was glad I did as I didn’t have time to stop for lunch – it turned out to be a longer drive than I had anticipated!!!   I parked near the entrance and entered the Valle de tempi, one of the most outstanding examples of greater Greece art and architecture and a UNESCO heritage site.  The valley includes the remains of seven temples including the very well preserved Temple of Concordia with its tall columns, the Temple of Juno built in the 5th century BC and the Temple of Heracles, the largest of the temples with several columns still remaining.

Once I had finished touring I called my hotel, Le Cinque Novelle, and the owner came out on his motorcycle to guide me into town and showed me where to park the car.  It was a lovely room and the hotel was perfectly located in the centro storico!!!  I walked about 10 minutes to La Posata di Federico II where I enjoyed Pasta alla norma famous in Sicily plus a plate of arugula to mix in.  The sauce was filled with pieces of eggplant and tossed with spaghetti draped over some roasted eggplant halves and sprinkled with Parmesan – really quite tasty.
In the morning a walked around the old town, up and down the ancient cobble-stone streets which lead to churches or old houses crumbly with neglect…Breakfast was the very best so far!!!  Set before were several different Italian pastries, filled with ricotto or nuts or chocolate plus some savory pastries as well PLUS delicious coffee and fruit.  I think the Italian pastries I have experienced on this trip are some of the best I have ever eaten anywhere in all my travels so far!!!!

Easy drive to Trapani as long as I paid attention making sure I was on the autostrada and not the 115.  Arrived at Porta della botteghelle, my hotel, about 1 p.m. using the great directions I was given in Arigento!!!  Nice little hotel in the old part of town.  The town sits on the sea and is charming.  I walked up to the piazza garibaldi and caught the bus to the funicular and took the funicular up to Erice, an ancient medieval city.  On the funicular I met a lady from Slovakia and we spent the day together.  We first stopped at a little café for coffee and pastries and then wandered up and down the old streets to the castles, old churches and up to the top of mount erice for a great panorama.  It was delightful!!!  Funicular down to the bus stop, bus stop to the piazza where we said good-bye. 

I wandered around the old city until it started to get dark and then had dinner at Salirossa, an ecletic café.  Started with a romesco “dip” with little pastries to dip in it.  Cooked pickled tuna with onion, vinegar and capers was my first course and it was served cold.  Second course was a half portion of pasta with zucchini pesto, clams, shrimp and eggplant.  I liked the pasta as the pesto was chunky and the clams still in the shell.  I wandered down the main street v. Emmanuelle, stopping for a chocolate gelato on my way back to the hotel.

In the morning I took a walk to the lighthouse and stopped by the vegetable and fish markets.  Delicious cream filled croissant and café dopplia in the breakfast room with fresh melon and grapes.  Took the 10:45 a.m. ferry to the largest of the egadi islands, favignana, off the coast of Sicily.  The waters are clear and blue and there are some old roman ruins, rugged cliffs, churches, etc. to see.  I rented a bike for the day and rode all around the island, stopping here and there to enjoy the sights.  Parked in the town for a bit to have a pastry and coffee and wander the streets and took the 6:30 p.m. ferry back to Trapani.  With just enough time to take a shower and refresh myself, I walked a few minutes down my street to Seriosa 47, where I had a delicious 7 course dinner.  It is an elegant and very friendly restaurant and everything I had was divine, even the glass of white wine.  The menu consisted of:  tempura fish and carrots, shrimp on a bed of mussels, clams and squid, fish on top of eggplant puree, pasta with eggplant sauce and shrimp, john dory on top of potatoes with capers and tomatoes, sea breen with a bacon and bread crust and cassata filled with ricotta cheese for dessert. 

In the morning I walked to the port and back to the fish market before enjoying my cream filled croissant for breakfast and then headed back to Palermo to return the car.  The owner of the b&b printed out a street map for me so it was very easy to find my way.  I dropped my luggage off at Liberta and then took the bus to Monreale to visit the famous chiostro del duomo di monreale, filled with shimmering mosaics illustrating scenes from the bible.  The town is small and cute and as the church wasn’t opened as yet I sat in a piazza and had a Sicilian eggplant pizza with a side of arugula.  The mosaics in the church have an eastern look despite the western style Christ reigning over his kingdom.  The ceiling is ornate and there are also two bronze door depicting biblical stories in relief.  So glad I came!

Took the bus back to town and then sat in the piazza near the hotel and had a gelato before picking up my bags from Liberta.   I caught the 8:10 p.m. ferry back to Naples, finding a secluded place to sleep under the chairs….

Arrived at 7:00 a.m. and I found my b&b, Casa di Bruno, which turned out to be very close to the port.  It was not in the best area but once inside it was really nice.  The owner was delightful and my room was even ready so I took a shower and was off by 8:00 a.m.  Stopped around the corner for a delicious still warm chocolate croissant and coffee and then bought my ticket on the hydrofoil to Capri which left at 9:10 a.m.  We arrived in 45 minutes at the marina grande which is the port area and nothing remarkable.  Took the funicular up the steep hill to Capri which reminded me of the towns of the amalfi coast, lots of chic shops, nice piazzas, etc.  I picked up a map and headed away from the crowds along via tragara to the arco naturale, gorgeous Paleolithic rock arch out in the sea, which is spectacular!!!  On along the via to faraglioni, towering three rock formations jutting out from the sea.  I walked the 20 minutes down the cobble stone stairs to the sea to get a really good view of the rocks.  After all that walking I stopped at La Capannina recommended to be where the “smart set” goes for lunch.  I had a delicious antipasto platter, relaxing at a very nice table open to the street. 

I took the bus up to Anacapri up the hill and walked the historic walk out on Viale Axel Munthe to the Villa San Michele following the sea.  Beautiful views from the villa.  Back to Capri where I sat in the piazza and had a chocolate gelato before taking the funicular back down to the port and catching the ferry back to Naples.  It was a beautiful day.  Since my flight was early in the morning I just stopped at a nearby café for a pastry and coffee and returned to the b&b to pack up and get ready for the flight home.  Taxi came on time and I just had enough time to pick up my last cream filled croissant before boarding my first leg to Frankfurt, then Houston and finally home…It really makes for a wonderful trip experience if you plan well and I was so glad I did!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Southern Italy, September, 2014
Easiest way to get to LAX is Shuttle2LAX!  They are always on time and you arrive at the airport without any stress!!!  Made a couple stops inflight to Naples and finally arrived at the airport about 12:30 p.m.  Took the bus to Piazza Garibaldi and then the metropolitana to Piazza Dante where my b&b, Palazzo Ruffo di Bagnara (www.palazzoruffodibagnara.it) was located.  Up on the top floor Carmen met me at the door and it was a delightful stay!!!  My room was large, airy and quiet and she was so informative on what to do, how to get there, etc. etc. etc. that I felt right at home.  PLUS, to my good fortune, Piazza Dante is right in the center of everything.  I picked up my first cream filled Italian pastry as a quick lunch and then bought a day metro ticket and took the funicular up to Castel Elmo.  The museum was closed but the view was spectacular!  Wandered around a bit, hoping to return another day, and then took another funicular down to the large Galleria Umberto, a shopping mall under construction but very old and impressive. 

Nearby is the Teatro Colon and the Castel Nuovo, housing municipal offices and built in the 13th century by Charles I, King of Naples as a royal residence.  I walked down towards the sea passing through several beautiful piazzas, especially piazza del plebiscite with its impressive church.  I then walked up the main street, Via Toledo towards Piazza Dante and turned onto Via Tribunal, a narrow walking street in the old part of town.  As it was getting late I decided to head to Gobbetto restaurant which was recommended as being excellent.

There was a line of about 10 people when I arrived at about 8:30 p.m.  Everyone eats late in Italy, i.e. 9:30 p.m. so I waited for a table.  The night was pleasant and the location was good so I didn’t mind the wait.  Once inside, it was charming and my antipasto platters were excellent.  One contained grilled zucchini, eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms and another contained fried things, i.e. cheese, sardines, polenta, squash blossoms on a bed of arugula.  A delicious and not expensive first meal in Italy!

In the morning Carmen set out some croissants and fresh fruit and I enjoyed breakfast at a little table overlooking the piazza.  Coffee in Italy is strong and delicious and the pastries I tried along the way were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Afterwards I went to the Catacombs a bit out of town.  As I couldn’t find a bus to take me there I used the little Italy I had studied to ask a young motorcyclist if I could pay him to take me there.  He was so surprised that someone my age would actually ride with him that he didn’t charge me!!!

The Catacombs of San Ggennaro date back from the 2nd century.  The many tunnels held Christian burial niches and some of the old frescos still remain.  It is one of the largest and very impressive.  Afterwards I took the train to Pompeii where I spent about 5 hours wandering through the old amphitheatre, forum, baths, old shops, villas, etc.  Stopped for dinner at the famous Gino Sorbillo for pizza and a plate of arugula for dinner.  Since there were about 30 people waiting when I arrived at 8 p.m. I figured this must be “the place” to try Napolitan pizza.   The pizza was delicious with a chewy crust, cheese and a few mushrooms – a bit soft in the center but still yummy.  Easy walking distance back to the hotel…

Warm croissant and fruit for breakfast and then took the metro to the train station where I picked up my rental car.  With some “ado” I finally made it to Aberobello.  I stopped near the town to ask directions and was “lead” to La Truffesa Holiday where I stayed in an adorable little trullo, which is like a hobbit house.  The owner was very nice and drove me into town later that afternoon where I wandered around these many trulli where people still live.   Some are made into shops and restaurants, sometimes combined two together.    In one of these little trullo, in the restauarant L’arturo, I had a delicious pasta from the Puglia area, i.e. a type of ham, onions and some shell pasta on top of fava bean puree.  I ordered a side of arugula and piled that on top – really good.  Piero picked me up at 10:00 p.m. and drove me back to my “trullo”.

In the morning after a nice walk around some of the streets filled with more of these little trulli, Piero brought breakfast to my door.  It was sooo delicious.  Warm chocolate croissant, delicious strong Italian coffee and lots of melon, plums and grapes.  Went back into town to visit the museum which explained how the trulli are constructed and who lives in them now.  Originally they were just one room with a table set in the middle for meals.  One platter and one spoon were used by all.  Today 2 – 3 are combined to make a more pleasant environment.    On to Matera where I wanted to visit the famous caves.

I stopped near the town to ask directions and a very nice man lead me first to the parking garage (as the old city is a pedestrian city) where I parked my car and then he carried my bags up and down cobblestone stairs until we reached Antico Convicino where I was staying.  I only hoped I could find my car again!!!  My “hotel” was in a cave and they upgraded me to a suite so I actually had two levels – it was awesome. 

Map in hand, I set out to see this well known historical center called “Sassi”.  Sassi are houses dug into the calcareous rock.  I stopped at the museum where I watched a video about how people lived in these caves until the late 1980’s without heat, water or sanitation until their plight was made known and the caves were condemned and it became an UNESCO heritage site.  I visited old churches with ancient frescos and wandered the streets soaking in the history, stopping at a little pastry shop for a prosciutto and cheese croissant and a hazelnut gelato to sustain me until dinner.

Walked towards the cathedral which is under construction and down along the wall surrounding the city to Baccanti Ristorante set in a cave!  I had a half portion of delicious shell pasta with wild chicory, sun-dried tomatoes and chickpea puree sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and a side of arugula.  The atmosphere was peaceful and I didn’t feel pressured to order a lot of food.  Leisurely walked back to my “hotel” and enjoyed my space!

Took a walk around the old wall in the morning and then had breakfast in the cave-like dinning room, i.e. delicious pastries, fruit and coffee.  Headed to the amalfi coast.  I had thought about parking the car in amalfi and just taking the bus to ravello and positano but decided it would probably just take too long so I drove the hair pin turns, narrow roads with their amazing vistas.  I stopped first in Ravello and then drove through Amalfi on to Positano.  Ravello is a lovely city up on a hill with shops, gardens, piazzas, etc. Positano is also a beautiful city filled with cobblestone streets which lead right down to the sea.  However, it’s the drive that is the most spectacular and if you have time, the walks between some of the little villages are supposed to be awesome as well. 

After Positano I drove back to Maiori where I was staying the night as it was closer to Naples where I needed to return the car in the morning.  Maiori is a less populated city but set on the sea so is a nice place to stay.  Also the Michelin star restaurant Capo d’Orso is a short taxi ride away.  I had made a reservation and although I got there late it was no problem.  Very few people were there on a Sunday night but, nevertheless, my 5 course meal was excellent.  It started with a little plate of appetizers, i.e. little fried coquettes, lightly seared tuna, crock of ricotta and little tomatoes with a tiny spoon to eat it with.  Next came spaghetti with clams, zucchini flowers and zucchini dice, fish topped with roasted peppers, green beans and crisp potato cubes, peach meringue with peach gelato and chocolate cookie like dessert filled with lime cream.  Sooo Delicious.

In the morning I took a walk along the sea and had a croissant and coffee for breakfast before heading back to Naples and returning the car.  I left my luggage with Carmen at the Palazzo Ruffo di Bagnara where I had stayed before and walked to the Archelogical Museum to see the mosaics from Pompeii and some of the glass and metal objects Also found at the site.  Relaxed at Café Gambrini with a delicious cherry tart and café doppia and then walked down to the Castel d’ovo located on a peninsula.  It is the oldest standing fortification in Naples; however, its importance began to decline when Charles I of Anjou built the Castel Nuovo.  It was cavernous and fun to wander around the ramparts.

Picked up my bags from the hotel and took the metro down to the port where I caught the overnight ferry to Palermo, Sicily.  I booked a “seat” thinking it would be like the recliner I took on the train from Paris to Barcelona but it didn’t recline; however, there were hardly any people in the room so most of us just stretched out on the floor.  I had picked up a Panini for dinner and asked the guy at the bar to “per piacere” put it in his Panini press to heat up for me which he did and it was a fine little dinner.

Arrived in Palermo about 7:00 a.m. and found my hotel very easily as it was only 10 minute walk from the ferry.  I pressed the button and was happy someone answered as it was so early in the morning!!  Took the elevator 4 flights up and was greeted at the door by Carmen still in her pajamas!!  She was very sweet, gave me a map and off I went to explore the town.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fingerling Potato Salad w/grilled onions
1-1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, roasted, cooled and cut in half
2 red onions, grilled, slices separated and cut into one-inch pieces
½ lb. asparagus spears (optional), roasted in a 400F oven until tender,
  cut in half
1/3C toasted walnuts
1/2C sour cream
2 Tbsp. honey mustard
3 oz. creamy blue cheese
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1C baby arugula

Combine the sour cream, mustard, blue cheese and vinegar together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the potatoes with the dressing, grilled onions and roast asparagus.  Add the walnuts and arugula and toss again.
MAKES:  6 – 8 servings

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip
1/4C cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3/4C (about 4 oz.) crabmeat, well drained
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped drained grilled marinated artichokes from a jar
2 Tbsp. sliced scallions
2 Tbsp. diced red or yellow bell pepper
2 Tbsp. diced celery
1/4C fresh corn kernels
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. Sherry wine vinegar
½ tsp. hot pepper sauce

Toasted baguette slices

Preheat oven to 400F.  Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the crabmeat, ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese, artichokes, scallions, red pepper, celery, corn, basil vinegar and hot pepper sauce gently with a rubber spatula.

Transfer the mixture to a two cup soufflé dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.  Bake until the mixture is warm and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and surround with toasted baguette slices.
MAKES:  1-1/2C

Monday, September 15, 2014

Aztec Chocolate Cake
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter
6 large eggs
2 Tbsp. espresso powder
1C pecan halves, toasted
1C crème fraiche, lightly beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a bowl and place over simmering water until melted.  Stir gently and remove from the heat.

Place eggs in a mixing bowl and beat until triple in volume and light in color.  Add half the beaten eggs and the espresso powder to the chocolate mixture and fold in.  then add the remaining eggs and gently fold in until just a few streaks remain – do not overmix.

Pour into the cake pan and place in a roasting pan.  Fill the roasting pan with boiling water to come halfway up the cake pan, transfer to the oven and bake for 5 minutes.  Cover the cake pan with foil and bake – still in its water bath – an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from the water bath and set aside to cool on rack 45 minutes, then refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.  Run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold.  Serve with whipped crème fraiche and sprinkle with toasted pecans.
MAKES:  8 – 10 servings

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blackened chicken with Spanish salsa
4 – 6 chicken breasts, boned and skinned
2 Tbsp. Cajun seasonings or spice rub of choice
olive oil

6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Sherry wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
¾ tsp. freshly ground pepper
3 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small cucumber, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
3/4C sliced pitted Kalamata olives
½ red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
½ yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2C thinly sliced red onion
3 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
5 oz. ricotta salata, shaved

For the salsa:  Whisk oil, vinegar garlic, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Add all remaining ingredients and toss to coat.

Rub the chicken breasts with spice rub and olive oil.  Let sit 15 minutes.   Grill 3 – 4 minutes per side until tender.  Remove from the grill and add any cooking juice to the salsa.  Slice the breasts and serve warm with salsa.  Sprinkle with shaved ricotta salata.
MAKES:  4 – 6 servings

Monday, August 18, 2014

Alaska – July 2014
I have always wanted to experience Alaska so decided that 2014 was to be the year.  I am not a cruise person so booked a rental car in Anchorage and drove up to Denali and down into the Kenai for two weeks.  It was glorious!!!

The flight from LAX to ANC was a bit long as it stopped in Chicago instead of San Francisco which added two hours to the time.  I took a “people mover” from the airport to the bus station which cost $1 instead of the $20 taxi fare and walked to my adorable b&b Arctic Fox Inn (www.arcticfoxinn.com)  on 2nd court and Cordova.  Breakfast in the morning was delicious – Carol made these incredible banana nut muffins and there were piles of fresh fruit.  I walked to the visitor’s center and took a free shuttle to the Anchorage Heritage Center a bit out of town.  When I arrived a dance performance was just beginning which included two men and three women, all from different tribes.  They were wearing simple traditional dress, boots and gloves and the men played drums made out of seal skin.  The dances were gentle with gloved hands swaying and the songs were rich.  Afterwards I visited the traditional houses outside set around the lake, each representing a different tribe with its own way of life.  There were clothes made out of seal skin, kayaks, spears, etc. depending upon what each tribe hunted or caught.  Really fascinating.

I took the shuttle back to the Anchorage Museum and had lunch at Muse, a café owned by Marx Bros., an excellent restaurant in town.  I had some thin flatbread topped with roasted garlic, apricot jam and cambazola cheese.  The museum was superb.  There were great exhibits on the 1964 earthquake, how Alaska became a state, discovery of gold in the Klondike, etc.  The best one was the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center’s main exhibit entitled “Living Our Cultures, Sharing our heritage: the first peoples of Alaska” containing over 600 objects.

Afterwards I walked along the Tony Knowles Coastal trail for a couple hours wandering along the coast and through forests away from the bustle of downtown.  For dinner I walked down to Jen’s which took longer than expected.  There was a bus which ran down C Street but I didn’t realize it until later!!  I had grilled rockfish with romesco sauce and grilled corn and a wonderful chocolate decadence chocolate cake for dessert.  The food was good but the menu was rather dull compared to what I encountered later in my travels!!!  Took a taxi back to the hotel as my legs were pretty tired!!!

Toast and fruit for breakfast and then a walking tour of Anchorage, passing by historical buildings, art galleries, totem poles, little cottages, etc.  Ended at Oscar Anderson’s home for a very interesting tour.  The guide spoke about the many people who came to Alaska in 1915 to build the railroad and they lived in a tent city until parcels of land were distributed.  Oscar was from Sweden and opened a butcher shop.  He did quite well for himself apparently.  Lunch at Ginger, three little wonton shells filled with cubes of tuna, avocado and chili sauce and a warm chocolate decadence cake.  Took a bus to the Heritage Museum in the Wells Fargo Bank which turned out to be quite a fantastic little museum filled with seal skin jackets, spears, kayak, harpoons, baskets, dolls and even a large tusk from a wooley mamouth.  Dinner at Marx Bros., a cute little house turned into a restaurant.  Delicious special shrimp appetizer with black beans and salmon caviar, chocolate pecan torte for dessert.

Took a nice walk along the creek behind the b&b and watched the fishermen.  Breakfast and then dollar rent a car picked me up and I rented my little Toyoto Corolla and headed to Denali National Park. I stopped in the cute little town of Talkeenta for blackberry/rhubarb pie and ice cream at the Roadhouse, picked up some cranberry bread and swiss cheese quiche to eat during my long trip into the park tomorrow and drove on up to the Denali Wilderness Center to pick up my pass and find out where I would meet the shuttle in the morning.  On to Healy where I checked into Parks Edge, a cute little cabin “in the woods”.  It had started to rain but that’s Alaska so I continued with my plans!!!  Drove to 229 Park for a fantastic dinner and by the time I got there the rain had stopped.  I had a delicious layered radicchio and little gems salad with blue cheese and candied walnuts, Alaskan crab cakes with large chunks of crab and a key lime tart dusted with lime zest.  Returned to Healy just as it started to rain again!!!

In the morning I arrived at the wilderness center about 7:00 a.m., ate my little cranberry bread and coffee and boarded the 7:30 a.m. ranger shuttle bound for Kantishna, i.e. all the way into the park.  Along the way we say grizzly bears and cubs, caribou, large moose with enormous antlers, etc.  Stopped about halfway in Eielson, named after Ben Eielson, a famous bush pilot who was the first to fly from North America to Europe and died young in a plane crash.  Watched a great film on climbing Mt. Mckinley (20,230 feet) which we didn’t see that day as it was rather foggy.  On to Wonder Lake where we got off to learn about the gold mining in Kantishna.  Saw reflection pond where Ansel Adams had photographed Mt. Mckinley’s reflection in it.  All the while George, our terrific guide and driver filled us in on the history, pointed out wild life, etc.  Arrived back about 6 p.m. and I headed back to Healy, stopping at the 49th State Brewery for some freshly grilled salmon with sauteed spinach.  Hot shower felt good and it was warm, quiet and cozy in my little cabin – a good choice.

Stopped at the Black Bear Coffee House for banana bread and strong coffee before taking a couple very nice walks, i.e. horseshoe lake trail and the meadow trail which started from the Visitor’s Center in Denali.  Cold but no rain so it felt good to walk through the trees and wild flowers for a few hours.  Back to Talkeenta for another piece of blackberry/rhubarb pie and ice cream and this time I walked down to the lake and was able to get a glimpse of the top of Mt. McKinley.  Also took a self guided walking tour of some of the old historical homes, buildings, etc. where the miner’s had lived.  On my way to Palmer I drove through the gorgeous Hatcher Pass which takes about an hour and most of the road is gravel.  However, the hills, beautiful rushing creeks, mountains and vistas were incredible as the day was sunny and warm.  Arrived in Palmer about 8 p.m., checked into the Alaska Harvest b&b and drove into town for blackened chicken tacos at the Palmer Ale House.

After zucchini walnut bread for breakfast at the Vagabond Café in town I checked out the enormous cabbages and other giant vegetables which Palmer is famous for in one of their gardens.  On to Potter’s Marsh for a walk along the boardwalks to search for birds and then to Girdwood for lunch at the Bake House.  Had a delicious salad with raw zucchini, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce and parmesan cheese and a giant peanut butter cookie!  As the day was gorgeous I was encouraged to take the 3:00 P.M. Potage Glacier tour.  First I visited the visitor’s center to learn about the glaciers, animals, etc. and then took the hour long cruise to the retreating potage glacier which had a beautiful blue tinge to it.  Our boat got very close to it so we could watch some “calving”, i.e. when some of the glacier slips into the water.  Stopped by the wild life center on my way back to Girdwood which was very interesting.  Orphaned or hurt animals are adopted and spend their lives here, i.e. moose, elk, eagles and even a black bear.  They have a lot of space and very few animals to share it with so it was not like living in a zoo.  Checked into the Glacier view b&b and then drove to the Alyeska Hotel to take the tram up to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant where I had a beautiful table with a view of the glaciers and a delicious dinner, i.e. king crab cakes with apple/fennel slaw and a wonderful “almond joy bar” for dessert with salted caramel sauce. 

In the morning I walked around Timberlane street to the waterfall nearby, had some nut bread and a delicious peach for breakfast and then drove to Whittier.  There is a very long tunnel which passes into Whittier but only opens one way per hour, i.e. 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. towards Whittier, 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. towards Girdwood.  I made the 10:30 a.m. tunnel and then just walked around the “town” until it was time to board the ship for the Phillips Cruises & Tour’s 26 glacial tour.  It was a beautiful day so we saw sea otters, bald eagles and even a few pods of orca killer whales.  Lunch was served, i.e. crisp fish and cole slaw which was just fine.  I spent the whole 5 hours on the deck as we came close to so many beautiful glaciers and the “ranger” explained so much about them which made the trip very interesting.  Got back in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. tunnel back to Girdwood which worked out well!!  Cleaned up at the b&b and then had a wonderful dinner at Jack Sprat Restaurant nearby.  First the house salad with baby kale, sunflower seeds, edamme, carrot slivers and greens followed by the summer rolls filled with noodles and vegetables and a peanut sauce to dip them in.  Dessert was the most delicious panne cotta I have ever had as it was topped with blueberry coulis which dipped into every
bite – a first rate restaurant.

Walked the Winner’s Creek path near the Alyeska Resort to the hand tram which was a lovely walk.    Breakfast at the Bake Shop, i.e. carrot walnut bread and coffee before heading out.  Stopped near Seward at the Exit Glacier and just walked up to see the lower part.  You can also do the harding ice field trail which goes all the way to the top or take a tour who allows you to don crampons and walk on the glacier.  We walked on the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina some years ago so I didn’t feel I needed to do that again.  It was impressive.  Stopped at the Harbor View Bakery for a quick cranberry crumb bar before checking into my charming Ballaine House b&b conveniently located on Third Street.  Took a walk down Fourth Street to get a feel for the little town and then took a nice walk along the water and back.  Drove back out to Exit road and had dinner at the Salmon Bake which seems to be rather an institution and a must do!!  Had delicious salmon, baked potato and corn in the Alaskan roadhouse and it was fun to be there.

In the morning I had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, fresh fruit and coffee.  Took a beautiful walk up to the waterfall.  The day was gorgeous and the hills were green and filled with wild flowers.  Stopped by the Seward Museum housed in the library which had a very interesting video of the 1964 earthquake that all but destroyed Seward.  There were also many exhibits about the way people lived and about the iditorod trail dogsled race from anchorage to Nome.  Had a delicious lunch at Seward Brewery Co., i.e. watermelon salad with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and cucumber “noodles”.  Dessert was four little churros dusted with cinnamon and served with caramel sauce and ice cream – heavenly.

Walked to the end of Fourth and found the Wild Life Conservation Center where I spent a couple hours.  There was an enormous octopus, many exhibits about the different kinds of salmon and a ranger spoke about the native Americans and their life styles.  I walked the two lakes trail but found it a bit confusing and was glad when I finally made it out!  Back to the Seward Brewery Co. for crispy rockfish tacos and those delicious churros for dinner.

Bri made some delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast and after a walk around the lake I headed for Copper Landing.  I stopped by the Alaska River Rafting Company to book a rafting trip at 2:00 p.m. and then had pie and ice cream for lunch at Sackett’s Kenai Grill, a fun little roadhouse nearby.  It had started to rain (so what else is new!!) and was a bit cold so I put on some very warm clothes and the 6 of us were given some raingear to wear which covered us very well and protected us from the rain.  The trip took about 3 hours and we rafted down the Kenai River.  We saw a few bald eagles and their enormous nests and a few stray birds, but it was the rafting through all that beauty that was the most fun even in the rain!!!  Afterwards I checked into Gwin’s where I was staying in a nice cabin and turned on the heater to get warm.  After a hot shower I drove back over to Sackett’s Kenai Grill which was only 5 minutes away and had some pulled pork tacos which were delicious and I loved the casual environment as everyone shared the communal tables but kept their own space – nice!

Had a cinnamon roll in the morning at Sackett’s bakery which opens at 7:30 a.m. but the restaurant itself doesn’t open until 12:00 p.m.  I sat at the counter and enjoyed my breakfast and thought about my day.  Drove to the river and took the hand ferry across the river to watch the fly fishermen.  Good fishing this time of year so there were many of them.  Drove down shilak road which has access to many trails and took the hidden creek trail.  There had been a fire here not long ago which was evident from all the burned trees so it wasn’t that pleasant of a hike and this was a first time I had encountered so many mosquitos!!!  Drove on to Soldotna which is nothing special, had some apple pie and ice cream which was also nothing special and then found the museum near the visitors center which was excellent.  There were many old cabins claimed by veterans, some old fishing boats and even an old guide who remembered “back in the day” so gave a nice window into how it was.  On to Kenai and to the Alaska Log Cabin Inn which was a very friendly place to stay.  Walked down K Beach Street where I had a wonderful dinner at Flat’s Bistro.  Recently opened Flat’s is a friendly, open-air bistro with an ecletic menu.  I had a duck confit salad with apples and pine nuts and a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla cream and berry compote which reminded me of the bittersweet chocolate cake I make – yummy!!

I took a nice walk in the morning and then had some delicious sourdough blueberry pancakes for breakfast with lots of fresh fruit.  Drove to the wild life center where they had some nice exhibits about the birds and animals in Alaska.  On to downtown Kenai but all was closed.   Decided to return to Veronica’s Café when I pass through again as it looked really cute.   Stopped by the Visitor’s Center where they had a great video about how the animals prepare themselves for winter.  Had a quick tuna sandwich at Olie’s (the only place open) near the airport and then headed for Homer, stopping in Ninilchik to visit the Transfiguration of our lord Russian orthodox church and cemetery which were charming.  Stopped in Kasilof and visited a very informative historical museum about the fur trappers.  Arrived in Homer and checked into the Alaska Beach House.  Even though it was raining a bit I took a walk along the ocean and it was beautiful especially since it stays light so late.  As it was Sunday evening, Cups and Wasabi, both excellent restaurants I was told, were closed so I drove up to Homestead which I had also heard good things about.  I had a nice apple, dried cherry, candied pecans and blue cheese salad, followed by a “mezza” platter with eggplant, roasted peppers, pickled onions, olives and grilled foccacia slices.  A very dense chocolate decadence cake was a nice finish.  The restaurant is a bit old-fashioned but quiet and peaceful inside.

Many of the b&b’s in Alaska seem to just leave rolls, fruit and the makings for coffee and tea in your room so you can prepare your own breakfast but that doesn’t appeal to me.  So instead, after a nice walk along the beach, I drove into town for a delicious sticky pecan roll and coffee at Two Sisters Bakery.  Wandered the main street of Pioneer Road and then spent a couple hours in the Pratt Museum nearby.  Filled with so much information about the wildlife and tribes in Alaska it is well worth a visit.  Had a delicious slice of Swiss cheese/arugula quiche and a cup of basil tomato soup at Maura’s and then drove to Homer Spit for a quick look around.  Homer Spit is a pier filled with restaurants and shops and is very quaint and picturesque.  Afterwards I took the 5:00 p.m. Danny J “ferry”, a classic wooden boat, across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove.  As it was raining pretty hard we were given ample rain gear so we could enjoy sitting outside as it wasn’t cold only wet!!!  I booked a 6:00 p.m. dinner at Saltry, the acclaimed waterfront restaurant, as had read it is best to eat first and then wander around the art galleries as the boat returns at 9:00 p.m. Had a delicious salmon three ways dinner, i.e. smoked, “hash” with sweet potatoes and sauteed king with kale.  Finished with their celebrated chocolate cheesecake which didn’t disappoint!!!  Had a nice 1-1/2 hours to walk along the boardwalk and experienced the galleries, one of which was the studio of the late Diana Tillian known for her subtle octopus-ink watercolors.  A very nice evening!

Checked out and had a cinnamon roll and berries at Two Sisters Bakery.  Took the Bishop Beach walk for a couple hours and it was beautiful as the day was sunny and warm.  Stopped by the Wild Life Center and watched a video about the Aleutian Islands and how a boat filled with experts checks on the wild life to make sure birds are not becoming extinct, etc.  Foxes and rats had appeared in abundance at one time which ate many of the birds so they are trying to rid the islands of foxes and large animals to save the birds.  Stopped for lunch at Veronica’s in Kenai as planned and it was really cute.  Had a delicious piece of apple pie and ice cream but there were wraps and sandwiches which also looked enticing.  Returned to Copper Landing but this time stayed at Hutch B&B which is less expensive.  Took a walk to check out Kingfisher Roadhouse but although the view of the river was magnificent the menu didn’t really appear to me…  Also drove by the princess lodge which people have said had a great restaurant but the ambiance didn’t work for me!!!  Soooo I ended up at Sackett’s Kenai Grill for a delicious pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and it was just right!

Stopped by Sackett’s bakery for a cinnamon roll and asked about nice trails to take.  The Russian River Trail was suggested so I drove to the self parking area, and walked to the trailhead and along the river.  It was a lovely walk and a beautiful day.  Checked out of the b&b and headed back to Anchorage.  Stopped in Hope, a cute little mining town where gold was discovered in 1897.  Great museum with household items from the gold rush in Turnagain Arms, old cabins where the miners lived, etc.  Walked down main street and to the river and it was like going back in time.  There were a couple of cute cafes but I decided to push on to Girdwood.  Had a delicious salad and chocolate espresso cookie at the Bake Shop in Girdwood and then returned the car in Anchorage.  Quick shuttle back to Arctic Fox where I stayed one more night.  Later I walked into town and met Rod Perry, one of the first mushers to run the iditarod trail dog sled races in 1973.  So interesting to hear how it was then!!!  Had a fabulous dinner at Haute Quarter Grill (www.hautequartergrill.com) – one of the best meals I had in my entire trip!!!  Started with duck confit/fig apricot chutney, pesto and cambazola cheese, followed by lightly seared pepper crusted tuna w/ponzu and wasabi and finished with molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream– could it get any better than that!!!

Carol made those delicious banana nut muffins for breakfast again and there is always an abundance of fruit as well.  Took the nice walk in the back along the creek to watch the fishermen one last time.  Packed up and walked into town for lunch at Sack’s.  Had two delicious blackened fish tacos with kale and greens and a chocolate crème brulee – not bad for a last meal in Alaska.  Taxi to the airport and then we boarded the plane but there were “issues” so we sat for two and a half hours waiting for everything to be fixed.  Arrived in San Francisco too late to make a connection so they put me up at the Embassy Suite near the airport which was just fine.  Had a nice buffet breakfast in the morning, quick shuttle to the airport and this time we left on time and I was even able to fly into orange county instead of LAX!!!  Even though I saw just a tiny bit of Alaska I truly enjoyed what I saw and felt I saw it well!!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chicken Paillards with pistachio pesto
6 chicken breast halves, pounded 1/8-inch thick
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2C chicken stock

pistachio pesto
1/2C pistachio nuts, toasted
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1C Italian parsley leaves, packed
1C basil leaves, packed
1/3 – 1/2C olive oil
1/2C parmesan cheese, finely grated
freshly ground pepper

For the pesto:  Place the nuts, garlic, Italian parsley and basil in a food processor and pulse to chop.  With the machine running add the oil in a stream.  Pulse in the cheese.  Season to taste with pepper.  Set aside.

Heat a sauté pan to medium heat; add the oil and butter and heat.  Salt and pepper to chicken paillards.  Heat the sauté pan to high and add the chicken.  Sauté two minutes per side or until slightly golden.  Remove the chicken to a plate.  Add the chicken stock to the pan and reduce to 1/4C.  Turn off the heat and whisk in ¾ of the pesto.  Divide the chicken among 6 plates and spoon the pesto sauce over.  Serve the remaining pesto on the side.

MAKES:  6 servings