Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Very Special Weekend

Several years ago while in SW France, we decided to drive into Spain, to the Catalonia region,  to see the Salvador Dali museum.  After crossing the border and stopping for a lunch of mussels and wine we continued for a short time along the craggy coastline, weaving in and out of jutting land with the ocean on our left.  Finally we came to our senses.  This is not going to least not that day.  We turned around and headed back into France.

Nonetheless, the desire to see the original work of Salvador Dali never left our minds.  Fast forward to the present time.  We now live within an hour of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  No excuses now and certainly no wavy coastline to follow.

Today is The Trout's birthday.  We decided to step out of our comfort box, our own kitchen, and headed to St. Pete for the weekend.  We found a very cute boutique hotel that we would certainly visit again.  The Hollander Hotel in downtown St. Pete is an old building, refurbished and a nice change from the modern hotels and motels available to tourists.

It was a cool Florida day, but we walked a lot this weekend.  Went down along the wharf toward the St. Pete Saturday Farmer's Market.  Anything and everything you would ever need or want was available in this bustling place.  The Trout quickly made a friend with this young lady.  She is a fixture here every Saturday, dancing her heart out.  She could not convince The Trout to dance though.

A quick walk a little further took us to the Dali Museum.

 It was quite crowded, but so worth our time.  Salvador Dali was a very interesting individual.  I would suggest that the free headphones that come with the price of admission are so well worth it.  The paintings were explained in great detail.  He painted in 3-D or double imagining painting.  A favorite of mine was "Hallucinogenic Toreador."  Since photos were not allowed to be taken in the museum, I have taken this one from the Internet to let you get a glimpse.

Salvador Dali - Toreador - Poster

Study the second Venus de Milo from the right.  The green skirt is the toreador's tie, go up and spot his chin, nose and his eye is in the head of Venus.  Down in the left is the head of the bull.  Many, many stories are found in this painting.  In fact, when our friends come down in March for spring break, we plan to take them there.  We liked it that much. 

Also in the museum was a visiting display of Andy Warhol.  We have seen these before when we visited The Centre Pompidou in Paris.  The only one I really wanted to see was "Marilyn" and that painting was not there.  As you can tell, I am not that much of a fan.

So then to dinner in a restaurant that The Trout actually read about in The New York Times.  Rococo in a new restaurant that just opened in October.  It is housed in the former YWCA which was formerly a funeral home. 

 This is a very nice restaurant with many employees waiting to please you.  It was nice attention and we had a very enjoyable evening.  We dined on grass fed beef which was our choice.  Corn fed beef was also available.  As a rule, we rarely order steak in a restaurant because we enjoy preparing it at home to our tastes.  But we have to say, this was outstanding.

It was a great weekend in a small town that we have forgotten about.  So glad we found St. Pete.  I know we will be back.  It has recovered its downtown nicely.

 Happy 70th Birthday, Dale, aka The Trout.  May there be many more good and healthy years ahead. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Mini Greek Lamb Burgers

The Trout and I usually plan our menu for the week on the weekends before we head to the markets.  I had this taste for lamb burgers which I truly love and have not eaten in quite a while.  We have two recipes we have made several times, but I was on the prowl for a new one.  I found one from Martha Stewart and it tasted really, really good.  I will make it again, but with a few changes.

I like the fact that the mini burgers are placed into pita bread halves.  I will add some fresh mint to the lamb itself next time.  The combination of the fresh parsley and oregano from our garden was perfect, but since I put mint in the Tzatziki sauce, I thought it could also go into the meat mixture.

We are finding ground lamb more and more in our supermarkets.  This was prepacked and sealed and the label actually said it was from Franklin, Wisconsin.  American raised lamb from a great state.  So prefer this over lamb that has traveled from New Zealand.  Pricey....kind of.  This was $7.99 a pound.  I only used one pound and added all the ingredients as if it was 1 1/2 pounds as the recipe calls for.  I got 8 mini lamb burgers for $8.  It served the two of us and there is enough left over for lunch.  Enjoy, because I know we loved this special treat.

Mini Greek Lamb Burgers
Courtesy of Martha Stewart

For Tzatziki Sauce:

1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated  (I used a regular cuke)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and Pepper

In a medium bowl, combine cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, mint and garlic, season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lamb Burgers:

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (see my notes above about using 1 pound)
1/2 small onion, minced (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
Salt and Pepper

4 pieces of pita bread, 6 inches each
Sliced or chopped Roma tomatoes

In a medium bowl combine lamb, onion, parsley and oregano.  Season with salt and pepper.  Gently form into 16 small patties, about 3/4 inch thick.  (Out of my 1 pound of lamb, I formed 8 patties about 2 inches in diameter.)

Grill until medium rare, 2-3 minutes per side.  Can also use a grill pan indoors.

Warm the pitas on the grill or over a gas burner, turning occasionally.  Halve the pitas and fill with each half with 2 burgers, tomato and tzatziki.  Delicious.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Rolled to an End

I can probably count on one hand the number of desserts I produced in my kitchen in 2013.  It seems, and it only makes sense, the older you get, the less you need to eat.  And, if I am giving something up, it will be dessert.  I would much rather enjoy a good meal and a bottle of wine than dessert.  Believe me, that attitude has changed from when I was younger. 

But, since part of our family was visiting for Christmas, a dessert for Christmas is always necessary.  It just seems to make the season complete.  I have a cheesecake recipe that I have made for years, but I wanted to try something new.  I thought I had found one, but when I saw it added a can of sweetened condensed milk, I thought that would be too sweet.  My daughter suggested the one she has been making by Tyler Florence, and so that is what I did.

It baked perfectly and was actually fluffy in texture.  Very good, but then, when is Tyler Florence ever wrong?

The Ultimate Cheesecake
  Courtesy of Tyler Florence and my Strawberry Topping

2 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 30 squares)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 pound cream cheese, 2 (8 ounce) blocks, softened
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients with a fork until evenly moistened.  Lightly coat the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Pour the crumbs into the pan and using the bottom of a measuring cup or the smooth bottom of a glass, press the crumbs down into the base and 1 inch up the sides.  Refrigerator for 5 minutes.

For the Filling:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute until smooth and free of any lumps.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined.  Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sour cream, lemon zest and vanilla.  Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters.  The batter should be well-mixed, but not overbeaten.  Pour the filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it.  Place the cake pain in a large roasting pan.  Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.  The foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake.  Bake for 45 minutes.  (I needed to bake another 12 minutes in my oven.)  The cheesecake should still jiggle and it should firm up after chilling, so be careful not to overbake.  Let cool in pan for 30 minutes.  Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours or overnight is best.  Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the inside rim.  Unmold and transfer to a cake plate.  Using a spatula, spread a layer of  topping over the surface.

Susan's Strawberry Topping

Approximately 1 pound of strawberries
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Combine cornstarch, strawberry jam and honey in a small sauce pan.  Stir until the cornstarch is completely incorporated.  Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer and cook for one minute.  Remove from heat and let cool 15-20 minutes.

Arrange hulled strawberries on top of the cheesecake in a circle on the edge.  Continue to add to cover the center.  Then cut up the berries and place in the gaps between the berries to totally cover the top.  Drizzle the cooled strawberry glaze over the strawberries before serving.