Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Hidden Gems of Paradise Coast

Florida’s west coast food scene has been seriously overlooked

Florida is known as a retirement safe haven and a winter getaway for us snowbirds up north. But what about its food scene? With access to fresh seafood, bordering states that are known for Southern cooking (Georgia, Alabama), and weather that is ideal for growing, it’s a mystery how this area hasn’t prospered into a culinary mecca.
Though there are must-try local favorites, there are also some talented chefs that want to make Florida a food destination. By bringing their own style of cooking to the state, these chefs are elevating the way Floridians eat.
The western area of Florida is home to Naples and Marco Island, aptly named Paradise Coast. While on a mission to eat the best these towns have to offer, I went up one pant size, met three remarkable chefs, and experienced Florida’s renewable food source.

Located in Naples, Florida, this restaurant is a pioneer in fresh food. The Local’s fearless leader, chef Jeff Mitchell, has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years. He took great pride in explaining the different produce he serves and why it’s featured on the menu. One of the first courses served was his version of a tomato soup. Included in this small bowl were subtle nuances of orange, basil, pomegranate, and pistachio, and it was topped with a dollop of ricotta. This may seem like a muddle of flavors, but the fruits kept the soup — which otherwise could have been heavy — very light.

But dessert was the real star. Mitchell fried zeppolis, made from a dough using a ricotta-like cheese that he makes himself, and served them on a bed of crème anglaise paired with jam. This fried dough seemed to never fill me up and I ended up eating the whole plate, though I did restrain myself from licking it clean.
One of the main highlights for locals is the whole pig that Mitchell orders weekly from local farmers, truly embracing the concept of nose-to-tail cooking. When I was there, two customers came in looking for the house bacon and were heartbroken that the restaurant was sold out.
The Local is technically a farm-to-table restaurant, but Mitchell expressed how he’s not particularly fond of the term. “This is the way we were meant to eat,” he said.
This place seems to be a well-kept secret among locals, so make a point to stop by if you ever find yourself in Naples.

Florida is lacking in elevated eating establishments. Some chefs are tackling this challenge head on and are looking to transform the big state. Chef Vincenzo Betulia is a Sicilian native who is looking to tap into this area of the market that has long been overlooked.
Dinner at his restaurant, Osteria Tulia, was a slice of heaven. Upon being seated and served bread with an eggplant caponata, you’d think you have died and gone to Italy. Instead of serving his diners butter before the meal, Betulia has opted for this classic topping, a recipe passed down from his grandmother. For those of you who are mourning the loss of your bread and butter ritual, there is a method Betulia’s madness. Butter coats your mouth in fat and in many ways will mask any flavors you eat immediately after. Besides, the caponata is infinitely more delicious. It was meant to be a small bite for customers, but has been received so well that the restaurant now sells the topping by the pound.
Main courses range from classic osso bucco to the chef’s whimsical take on pizzas, like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (pizza topped with lamb sausage, ricotta, chile, and onions). The pasta is all made fresh in house and Betulia oversees all aspects of his kitchen. While I was eating, the chef personally made rounds in the dining room and offered an addition of shaved white truffle. I chose to dine on a garganelli pasta with a cream sauce and white truffle. The balance of flavors cannot be overlooked. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the truffle, which can be easily overdone, was a welcome addition.
Betulia will be opening a French dining option in downtown Naples as well, something I learned while helping myself to a second helping of tiramisu. And the real surprise? He insists on running both kitchens! Though many chefs choose to appoint a head chef or a trusted sous to their restaurants in their absence, Betulia will be running back and forth up the street of Fifth Avenue to ensure the quality of his food doesn’t falter.

The stone crab claw harvest is highly anticipated in Florida and for good reason. The season is from October to May, but these fishermen aren’t just catching the crabs. In order to harvest the most desirable part, the claw, fishermen detach the claws at the joint and then throw the crustaceans back. Stone crabs have the ability to regenerate their claws every one to two years, making this Florida’s most coveted sustainable food source.

Over at City Seafood in Naples, they have the cooking process down to a science. The claws are boiled and then chilled rapidly to ensure the delicate white meat doesn’t stick to the shell. The cold crab claws are then served with a creamy mustard on the side, which, when eaten together, is a revelation of flavor. Some locals cook with the crab meat in bisques or tacos, but nothing comes close to eating the crab straight from the shell.
Like a true seafood shack, City Seafood also dishes up mountains of fries drenched in malt vinegar. Maybe not so typical is the alligator basket I also enjoyed here. Deep-fried gator served as a side dish to the cold seafood rounded out the whole meal.

Pazzi’s can be found tucked away at the J.W. Marriott on Marco Island. It’s a more casual dining option for families, but the food is far from “just for kids.” While eagerly awaiting the delivery of the appetizers, I enjoyed a glass of Planeta Noto Nero D’avola. This is just one of the many wines on tap Pazzi’s has to offer, of which the wait staff seemed knowledgeable and offered suggestions.
The starter of focaccia bread with a pesto for dipping had an unusual flavor. Chef Brooke Lawson includes mascarpone cheese in her pesto for added creaminess. 

Between the pesto and the burrata with tomato, I could have fed myself solely on appetizers. But the pizza that followed had a crust that was one of the better ones I’ve had the pleasure of eating outside of New York. The topping combination of arugula, prosciutto, and goat cheese was wonderful. The aged fig balsamic drizzled on top added a symphony of flavor that begged to have every inch of the crust dipped in it.
Chef Lawson was whisked away from her stay at Trump Towers and serving the president-elect to cook for the new luxury J.W. Marriott. Her menu can best be described as using quality ingredients in dishes that people want to eat. The food is polished and refined, and it’s transformed into dishes like peanut butter cheesecake with brûléed marshmallow. Needless to say, this was a mouthwatering completion to the meal.   

It’s not entirely the consumer’s fault that Florida hasn’t had the chance to prosper in the food industry. Chefs flock to main cities to make a name for themselves in famous restaurants like Alinea, The French Laundry, and Per Se. How comforting to know that some chefs are taking it upon themselves to deliver excellent food to a Southern state that’s been snubbed out of being a culinary destination. After seeing what Florida has to offer, there is no doubt in my mind that this state will flourish in the food world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Bourbon Balls

Chocolate rum balls are a Christmas staple in my house. This year I happened to have a bottle of my favorite bourbon in the liquor cabinet and wanted to try change up the recipe.
These are not for children...unless they're fussy about going to sleep. In that case two of these will knock them out and Santa will have plenty of time to relax.


2 1/2 cups Nilla Wafers cookie crumbs
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp. hazelnut flour
1/4 cup of your favorite bourbon
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. corn syrup
granulated sugar for coating

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients.
Press together the mixture until you form a large ball of dough. Roll into tablespoon sized balls, then coat in granulated sugar.
These are best prepared the night before and left to rest in order to let all the flavors develop.

*I used Maker's Mark bourbon in this recipe, my personal favorite and the vanilla undertones compliment the vanilla cookies and cocoa*

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sushi Dip

Oh yes you read that right. I'm a sushi hound and this dip is truly delectable. The salty-sweet sauce, tender mushrooms, and sticky rice makes for an orgasmic snack. Make sure you make this when you have company, otherwise you risk eating the whole thing yourself. 


2 cups sushi rice 
4 cups water
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. oil
3 cups shiitake mushrooms 
4 Tbsp. dark soy sauce 
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cup scallions 
1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
2 sheets of nori

First wash the sushi rice thoroughly; combine the rice and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the rice to a boil and reduce to a simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Stir in the granulated sugar and rice vinegar. Set aside. 

In a large skillet combine the oil and mushrooms. Cook over medium heat, until the mushrooms have begun to lightly brown. Add the brown sugar and soy sauce, stir until everything is combined and simmer for about 5 minutes. 

Next find a deep bowl to use as a mold. Grease the bowl with butter and pack the cooked rice in firmly; leaving a well in the center. Fill the center of the rice with the cooked mushrooms and sauce. Cover the mushrooms with more rice and press down to seal everything inside. 

Use a plate to cover bowl and flip it upside down. Gently remove the bowl to reveal the beautiful mold you've created and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. Cut pieces of nori to grab the deliciousness. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Peach Slushies


1 bag frozen peaches
1 cup fruity white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
1 fresh peach for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until you reach the desired consistency (should be icy and smooth).
Top with fresh sliced peaches and serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Food News Roundup

McDonald’s Gets a Jump on the 2020 Olympics

The 2016 Olympics in Rio aren't even over yet, but McDonald’s is already getting ready for the next games, four years hence: Customers of the world's most famous burger chain in Japan can already buy souvenir mugs celebrating the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. McDonald’s has already released a set of three different “Victory Tumblers,” available only through the end of August, in honor of the future event. Buy now, toast the Olympics for the next 48 months.

A Craft Beer Hotel Is Underway

Stone Brewing, the 10th largest craft brewery in the United States, is expanding its brand and entering the hospitality industry with the help of San Diego-based Untitled Hospitality. The companies are teaming up to develop Stone Hotel, slated to open in the first quarter of 2018. It will be located near Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, California. The $26 million hotel will feature a “bar-style lobby check-in,” floor-to-ceiling windows, a 10,000-square-foot rooftop garden, and three on-site bars, where you-know-what will be abundantly dispensed.

This New App Lets You Buy Restaurant Leftovers for Cheap

The food delivery business may be oversaturated with Grub Hub imitations and upscale takeout services, but you can add one more app to your list: Too Good to Go is a new company that connects hungry customers with leftover restaurant food. You can easily select a restaurant, order a type of food, and eat for cheap. Meals cost between $2.50 and $5 and feature restaurant leftovers that chefs were unable to use. Ordering from Too Good to Go helps to cut down on waste and saves you from overspending on fancy takeout.

These New M&Ms Taste Exactly like Butterbeer

Quirky-flavored M&Ms are becoming almost as ubiquitous these days as bizarre Oreo varieties. But the newest M&M flavor to hit the stands is butterscotch. These candies are said to taste just like butterbeer from Harry Potter. That’s right: Mars, Inc. thought they were just making a simple, festive, October-themed candy, but it turns out that they shook the Harry Potter fandom to its wand core. This is the most exciting candy-related news in the wizarding world since we were introduced to the fairly disgusting Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

Is This the Most Viewed Wine Video in the World?

It’s a problem that many of us are all too familiar with: You want to enjoy a bottle of wine, but there is no corkscrew to be found. Though there are many creative ways to get around this issue, a video by winemaker Stephen Cronk of Mirabeau en Provence demonstrating how to open a bottle of wine with a shoe has amassed more than 50 million views since it was posted a little more than two years ago. But Cronk doesn’t want the fame from this video to detract from the fact that he is making award-winning Provençal rosé.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Breakfast Sundae

I thought of these breakfast treats after a long week of having a house full of guests. You're responsible for entertaining and making sure that a dozen people are fed every morning. There's only so many times you can make scrambled eggs and pancakes; by the the third day I wanted to hurl my frying pan out the window.
Show some restraint and make something simple, like this sundae.


1 banana (sliced)
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup granola
chocolate chips

Layer yogurt and granola alternatively in an ice cream dish.
Slice the banana and arrange on the edge of the dish.
Top with your favorite berries and chocolate chips.

Friday, August 5, 2016

10 Minute Ice Cream Cake

Creating an ice cream cake always seems like a time sensitive, labor intensive project. First you have to make the ice cream, then there's the process of molding and layering, then freezing until you get the right constistency. After all that you'll find yourself wishing you went to Carvel and bought the stupid dessert. Well here's an easy ice cream cake hack that will give you a homemade ice cream cake in just ten minutes. You can customize the recipe with everyone's favorite candy and toppings. I used Reese's peanut butter cups and caramel.


12 ice cream sandwiches (unwrapped)
Chopped Reese's peanut butter cups 
Caramel topping 
Hot fudge topping 
12 oz. container of cool whip

Layer 4 ice cream sandwiches on a platter. Sprinkle an even layer of chopped peanut butter cups. Next drizzle hot fudge and caramel. Top with another 4 ice cream sandwiches and repeat. 
Top with the final 4 ice cream sandwiches and cover the entire cake in cool whip. 
Garnish with more chopped Reese's on top. Then drizzle additional hot fudge and caramel topping. 
Freeze until ready to serve. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

By Chloe Continues to Raise the Bar for Vegan Establishments Everywhere

Photo by Mikey Pozarik
By Chloe is the new name in vegan fast casual and it’s only getting better. If you’re ever down on Bleecker Street in NYC, you can see a line of people pouring into the restaurant; but now there’s a second New York location on 22nd Street (and one in LA) to accommodate the loyal fans of Chloe Coscarelli’s hot spot. By Chloe has yet to ring in its one-year anniversary but is already preparing to open a multitude of new locations, along with a bakeshop called Sweets set to open next door to the flagship and will feature all of the baked goods currently offered.

Photo by Mikey Pozarik
The latest store opening in the Flatiron District is near and dear to all breakfast-lovers; this location opens its doors at 7:30 a.m. to serve up the most delectable vegan dishes that have ever passed your lips. Most of the breakfast menu is only available at this location, my apologies to everyone on Bleecker Street. However, items like The Early Bird, which consists of scrambled tofu, spinach, maple sausage, market greens, and a slice of thick 7-grain toast, are seen at both storefronts. 
Quinoa Hash Brown Photo by Mikey Pozarik
Even if you don’t follow a vegan diet (I do not), this is some of the best fast-casual food you can find across New York City. Breakfast staples like fried potatoes are reinvented here into quinoa hash browns, paired with vegan sour cream, smoked paprika, and scallion. This is homestyle breakfast food that you don’t need to feel guilty about eating.

Some other must try items

Daily Pancake: With whipped maple butter.
Green Smoothie Bowl Photo by Mikey Pozarik
Smoothie Bowl: Granola, banana, raw almond butter, apple, blueberries, goji berries, chia seeds, and coconut.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Delectable Red, White, and Blue Treats

Summer is here, which means it’s time to indulge in some patriotic dishes! You can transform any food into a American symbol, so here are a few recipes to get you started.

Ridiculously Easy Fancy Fruit Tart

I first started making this Fancy Fruit Tart last summer and a lot of my friends clamored for the recipe. — Cindy, Cinfully Simple

Cherry-Rum and Blueberry-Limoncello Scones With Ricotta Cream

With the 4th of July holiday being around the corner, there’s a definite “Red, White and Blue” theme on the menu. Today’s recipe will be a welcome treat for your holiday breakfast whether you’re spending it by yourself, with your family or a few overnight guests at your house. It can also be a wonderful addition to a holiday brunch if you have one planned. — Diana, Food N’ Thought Peddler

Mini Berry Cheesecakes

This is a have-it-your-way recipe. You can garnish your own bite-size treats with any number of toppings: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, sliced almonds, toasted coconut, fresh mint, and/or maple syrup. — Liz Weiss, Meal Makeover Moms

Patriotic Chocolate Chunk Brownies

On my list of favorite low-maintenance holidays, July 4th is up there. I eat my annual nitrate-free hot dog (once a year is just enough, really), drink a cocktail, and whip up some brownies. It’s the perfect meal! — Miriam R. Plotinsky, Just About Baked

Red White and Blueberry Yogurt Popsicles

I’ll eventually get striped popsicles out of my system, but with [July 4th] coming up, I just had to try these. You don’t have to be a flag-waver to flaunt a little Americana this season. — Sue Moran, The View From Great Island

White Brownie Parfait

My contribution is the recipe for my White Brownie Parfait. I chose this recipe because I use white cocoa, a sort of nod to winter, but I also use fresh berries. Nothing says spring is here and summer’s coming like fresh fruits. [DF2] — Karen, Baking in a Tornado

No-Bake Berry Cream Pie

This easy, luscious, and creamy no-bake pie with fresh strawberries and blueberries will be perfect on your menu for the Fourth of July. With it’s cheesecake-like filling and juicy berries, it is a summer explosion in your mouth. — Nettie, Moore Or Less Cooking.

‘Merican Brownie Pizza

For the Fourth of July, it seems that every dish is transformed with food dye or patriotic fruits. I am here to say that I am not above this tradition. The kids will adore the creamy “icing” layered on top of a chunky brownie — with an added bonus of sneaking in some fruit for them to eat.Snack Rack


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Flavor: America

For the 4th of July it seems that every dish is transformed with food dye or patriotic fruits.  I am here to say that I am not above this tradition. However, as a pastry chef, the classic fruit tart or swirled cupcakes can be mundane. This red, white, and blue brownie pizza is a little bit different but still able to please everyone at the table. The kids will adore the creamy ‘icing’ layered on top of a chunky brownie; with an added bonus of sneaking in some fruit for them to eat.  Check back for more delectable red, white, and blue treats closer to the holiday weekend.
So go ahead and make everything you eat on Independence Day as patriotic as possible. You smell that brownie baking? That’s the scent of freedom.

1 egg
1 box brownie mix
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½  teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
8 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup water
1 cup blueberries
2 cups strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In your mixer combine all the brownie ingredients and mix just until everything is well blended. Spread the brownie mix over the parchment paper to form a circle that's about 14 inches in diameter. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In your mixer add the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth.
Using a spatula spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the brownie crust.
Arrange berries over the cream cheese mixture.

Enjoy America.