Publix Cooking Class with Guest Chef

Publix Cooking Class – Guest Chef Timon Ballo

We attended a Publix Aprons Cooking School class last evening featuring guest executive chef Timon Ballo from the Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill with locations in Miami, Las Vegas, and Brooklyn. This popular restaurant features globally-inspired small plates and Spanish-style tapas. The evening’s cooking class was fully booked. We were greeted with a glass of black cherry sangria.

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Next came a Chilled Spanish Ajo Verde Soup that was better than I’d expected. Smoked paprika gave this cold soup a bit of a spicy kick. It would be a good menu choice for the summer. Green grapes and English cucumbers provided the green color, while marcona almonds added a touch of crunch. Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc was served with this soup.

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The second course was Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese and Pistachio Crumble. I could eat this for a meal along with a salad. It was so good. We learned how to clean and trim fresh beets, then coat them with olive oil before wrapping each one in aluminum foil. These are roasted until tender and then peeled. The goat cheese whipped with heavy cream provided a perfect garnish amid a sprinkle of arugula and crushed pistachios. The chefs dribbled honey on top before serving. La Crema Pinot Noir was the wine with this course.

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Pan Roasted Salmon with Spring Vegetables was the main entrée. This was wild caught sockeye salmon, with citrus accents and a medley of fresh sautéed spring vegetables. Another delicious dish. Roth Chardonnay was the perfect wine choice here.

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Dessert was a melt-in-your-mouth Buttermilk Panna Cotta with White Port-Soaked Fruit. This was a pudding-like confection with a berry garnish. Sandeman Ruby Port was a sweet accompaniment to end the evening.

panna cotta

If you have a Publix Aprons Cooking School near you, check out their classes. It’s more fun than an expensive meal in a fancy restaurant and much better priced.

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Valentine's Day Cooking Class

For something different than the usual dinner at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, we signed up for a Publix Aprons Cooking School class. We’ve enjoyed these before, and the night’s menu looked appealing. It was a popular choice. The place was full with 48 people present to watch the demo-style class.
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As we waited for the show to start, one of the chefs poured us each a welcome glass of Cupcake Sparkling Rosé wine. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I grew up on rosés before learning to appreciate drier varieties. Remember Lancer’s?
First course was a Pistachio Shortbread with Goat Cheese, Strawberries, and Mint-Honey paired with a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. This was almost like dessert. The shortbread was a tasty cookie. The wine went well with this selection but it was a bit too fruity for my taste. I’d like it better before dinner.
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The next course was really good and very hearty. I could have made a meal out of this alone. We got a generous portion of Seared Sea Scallop Chowder with Smoky Sourdough Croutons paired with Bread & Butter Chardonnay. This wine went on my “I Like It” list. The soup was delicious. You could vary the recipe at home and make it with shrimp or lobster instead. If you use scallops, remove the abductor muscle from the sides.
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The main dish showed me a cooking technique I’d never heard of before. It used a temperature-regulated water bath. You insert the food in a vacuum sealed plastic bag, so you’d also need the vacuum device. I’ll never make this at home with all the extra equipment required, but the meat was tasty and tender. The dark things are purple potatoes. Sous Vide Lamb Loin with Butter-Roasted Radishes, Carrots, and Baby Potatoes paired with a La Crema Pinot Noir. I liked the dry red wine. Tip for pearl onions: cut off the bottoms and blanch in boiling water for a minute, and the skin peels right off.
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The dessert, a Butterscotch-Toffee Budino (pudding) was paired with a Veuve Cliequot Brut Champagne. Apparently, the tinier the bubbles, the more expensive the brand. This one had lots of tiny bubbles. The pudding was like a dense flan, a rich dessert that melts in your mouth.
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We had a gourmet meal and wine for a decent price, plus we got to see an entertaining cooking demo and take home the recipes. Let’s check their calendar and see what’s appealing that is coming up next.
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Days at Disney

We went to Epcot while we were in Orlando to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. At Africa, we had a wine flight consisting of Cederberg Chenin Blanc, Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, and Groot Constantia Pinotage. We were not impressed by any of them.
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Here are some of the other things we tried. They were all good. Probably my favorite was the last one on this list.
Chicken Dumplings at China, $4.45
Marinated Chicken with Peanut Sauce at Thailand, $5.00
Shrimp Skewer at Africa, $6.75
Wine Flight at Africa, $6.50
Carrot Cake at Hops & Barley American Adventure
Apple Strudel at Germany
Banana Almond Soft-Serve Sundae at The Almond Orchard $4.50
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Our visit on another day was to the Animal Kingdom. We enjoyed a stroll through Pandora and then went around Africa to Asia, past the youngsters area, and back to the front section where we exited. We’ve seen the shows and have gone on most of the rides, so we can just savor the ambiance, the plants, and the animals for a couple of hours.
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And so ended our wedding journey and escape into a fantasy realm. Now it’s back to reality.

St. Petersburg Florida

We got into St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday Sept. 5. Unfortunately, I hadn’t booked the conference hotel which was already full when I registered for Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Events took place at the historic Vinoy Renaissance by the bay. This distinctive structure faces a boat marina and a park on one side and Beach Drive at another end. Our hotel, the Hampton Inn, was on a side street from this main strip that hosts a plethora of restaurants and museums. The town is good for a few days stay with all there is to see and do. Here are shots of the Vinoy that was built in the 1920’s.
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It was a distinct disadvantage not staying there as we had to tip the valet at the Hampton Inn each time we needed the car. I got too hot walking the five to six blocks in ninety degree heat to the conference hotel while dressed up for the meeting. Once I left the Vinoy in the afternoon, I didn’t return. Daily thunderstorms and the intense heat prevented another long stroll. A shuttle ran between conference hotels, but only in the early morning and late afternoon. So I learned my lesson. Never stay off site again. However, we enjoyed St. Petersburg along Beach Drive even though we didn’t go farther into downtown.
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Dining adventures included Parkshore Grill where we had lunch on day one.
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We dined outside at Fresco’s on the first night.
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We met my former critique partner, Sharon Hartley, and her husband for dinner at Bella Brava.
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Richard and I enjoyed the early bird special at 400 Beach Seafood.
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I think I had more fun trying the different restaurants than anything else!
I skipped out on the conference on Saturday afternoon for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. This two-story building held many exhibits including sculptures, paintings, and valuable artifacts. I liked the clock exhibit. There’s a café and gift shop on the premises. Here are some of the items we viewed. More are in the album on my Facebook page.
museum        
Coming Next: Bouchercon 2018
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Adventures in Dining – Orlando

As usual when we visit Orlando, we like to try new dining spots as well as frequent some of our favorite restaurants. Besides Bonefish Grill and Longhorn, we celebrated our family’s September birthdays with the Magical Dining Month menu at Fleming’s. I got the beef filet with a salad and carrot cake for dessert.
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I didn’t fare as well at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. This being Labor Day Weekend and the opening of the festival, the park was crowded and there was a long wait under the broiling sun just to get in through bag inspection. We made it to a couple of places where I tasted the mini blended burger (very good!) and the loaded mac and cheese (too spicy).
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Then I succumbed to the heat and felt lightheaded. After a brief rest on a shady bench, I recovered my stamina and we headed to the festival marketplace to pick up our annual passholder magnets. Then we left, vowing to return when the weather has cooled and the crowds have thinned. I just can’t make this trek anymore in the 90+ degree heat.
Another day, we dined at La Madelaine, a French café located inside the Florida Mall where we took a nice air-conditioned walk. I didn’t have a problem there and enjoyed the exercise. My meal here was tomato basil soup, Caesar salad, and a half turkey and brie sandwich. The best breakfast was at Keke’s Café where I had a waffle accompanied by fresh berries and whipped cream.
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The highlight of the week was a bridal shower in honor of our daughter held at Orchid Thai Cuisine in Winter Park. The food was delicious from the buffet-style appetizers to the plated lunch to the beautiful cake. Our daughter was radiant as she greeted her friends and other guests.
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It’s hard to follow the wedding diet on these meals. I’d say I would wait until after the wedding, since that weekend will involve a lot of eating too, but then Thanksgiving will be upon us. Maybe I should make getting in shape a New Year’s resolution?
 

Key West 2018

We drove down to Key West on the Thursday before the Mystery Fest Key West conference began. Once you hit the Keys beyond Miami and Homestead, you pass interesting little towns on each island along with scenic ocean vistas on either side of the highway. On Ramrod Key, we stopped for lunch at Boondocks. Their creamy New England clam chowder was one of the best. I liked the crabmeat salad and cole slaw that accompanied the soup. A half portion of salad was more than enough.

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After arriving in Key West, we checked in at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort and then took the hotel shuttle into town. Here we meandered around until our friends Alyssa Maxwell and her husband joined us for dinner. We dined at Conch Republic Seafood Company. Richard and I shared stuffed mushrooms and grilled mahi mahi. We were as stuffed as the mushrooms when we’d finished.

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Friday morning, we were free, so we visited the East Martello Museum, a Civil War era fort. Exhibits tell about how the fort was used during the war as well as a bit of Key West lore including ghost stories and the creepy Robert the Doll tale. Doll houses, a treasure chest, and a cannon were among the relics displayed. Then we went outside toward the tower where a spiral staircase takes you to the top. Here are some scenic views.

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Hungry from our exertions, we drove into town and lunched at Pinchers Crab Shack on Duval Street. Then it was back to the hotel for the start of the conference.

 What’s your favorite place in Key West?

See all my Key West Photos Here

Hollywood Studios and Beyond

We spent an afternoon last weekend strolling around Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. Turning right at the first main intersection, we passed the fast food places on our left and gift shops on our right. Straight ahead was the Tower of Terror. I went on this theme park ride for one time in the past, and it was my only time. However, I like to admire the structure because it reminds me of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery. I had this attraction in mind when planning the layout for my fictional resort, which was also inspired by the delightful Tower of Terror movie.

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Many of the former attractions were closed and we couldn’t access the back streets. Remodeling is underway for the new Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway and the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

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We viewed the tourists along with this local resident.

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Then we went into Star Wars: Path of the Jedi to see a 12 minute film and get cooled off in the air-conditioning. The film follows Luke Skywalker from when he began his journey as a Jedi to when Rey took up the challenge in the latest saga film.

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We saw the new Star Wars Solo movie at Disney’s Dine-In Theater. The action kept me on my toes throughout along with keeping track of the various political factions. I especially liked how Han met Chewbacca and Lando. If you want a good escapist film, I’d recommend it for an entertaining couple of hours.

We ate at several restaurants in the area. Here’s the stuffed mushroom appetizer we enjoyed at Longhorn.

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Breakfast one day was at Wilderness Lodge.

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Dinner at Ahi Sushi.

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We also went to the Farmer’s Market in Winter Park and then strolled along the shops at Park Avenue after lunch.

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This was a welcome break. Back home, I completed my final read-through of Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day mystery series. Now it’s ready for production!

 

Dining Out Fort Lauderdale

You may be wondering why I write about food so much on this blog. Authors have lives, too, and I happen to enjoy dining out, taking cooking classes, and experimenting on recipes. Everything we do feeds into our creative works. You’ll find recipes and food mentioned throughout my Bad Hair Day Mysteries. So here are some local spots aside from the usual chains.

Dar Tajine is a Moroccan Restaurant that draws you in with its lush décor. The menu selections were varied enough to appeal to everyone at our table.

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We started out with Zaalouk, an appetizer with grilled eggplant, tomato, garlic, olive oil and spices. It tasted like Ratatouille and came with triangles of pita bread. For my entrée, I had the Beef Tajine that was wonderfully tasty and tender. My husband had the Vegetarian Tajine that looked substantial enough for his appetite. In my estimation, tajine means it is slow-cooked and served in these interesting pots. We’ll have to go back to try the Shish Kabob and Chicken Bastilla. Mint tea and a selection of pastries concluded the meal. The restaurant is located at 8281 W. Sunrise Blvd in Plantation. Go to http://www.dar-tajine.com

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On Mother’s Day, we dined at Vienna Café & Wine Bar. This is a favorite when we want a special night out. It has a continental atmosphere with Vienna classics on the menu. I started with the Mushroom Fricassee. The mushrooms are sautéed with port wine and cream and served in a flaky pastry. My main dish was the potato-crusted salmon, which came with a pinot noir cream sauce and steamed asparagus. I ordered a side dish of potatoes au gratin. This is located in Davie at Pine Island Plaza. http://www.ViennaWineBar.com

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So here’s my question for you. Do you like to read about my dining and travel adventures? Or would you rather I stick to how-to articles on writing and the writing process? Perhaps you like a mixture of both? Please let me know what interests you.

 

Publix Aprons Cooking School

We’ve enjoyed the cooking classes at Publix Aprons Cooking School in the past. This evening’s Australian Wine and Dine theme appealed to us since we like Australian wines. Did you know we went to Australia on our honeymoon, among other places? Visions of Ayers Rock rose in our minds as we read the menu. This would be a fun night.

This class drew a full house. The place was packed, and three chefs took turns doing the demonstrations. You can choose hands-on or demo classes where the chefs do the work. Either way, you sample the food and accompanying wines. None of the portions or drink pours are huge but your stomach is filled by the end.

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Tonight we started with a 19 Crimes red wine called “The Uprising.” This was really good and will go on my buy list. This brand is fun as every cork relates a different crime. I have two of them in my home office. One reads, #11. Stealing roots, trees, or plants or destroying them. The other one says, #15. Clandestine marriage. Imagine this being a crime. It could provide fodder for lots of stories.

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The started course was Barbecue Shrimp with Spring Pea Salad. This seemed relatively easy to make. The shrimp were tasty, and I liked the pea salad that was served cold. It could easily be heated as a vegetable side dish. Did I mention that you get all the recipes to take home? With this course, we had an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. It was light golden in color and a bit fruity. We liked it. Our tablemates called it “refreshing.”

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Next on the menu was Crispy Scalloped Potatoes with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche. These potatoes took a bit of effort to make, being sliced and dipped in batter than fried. They were crispy tasty, and I liked the smoked salmon with them, but I’d probably use potato latkes or vegetable pancakes from the freezer section instead. The accompanying wine was 19 Crimes Chardonnay. This was a nice golden color and dryer than the sauvignon blanc with more body.

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The entrée was Marinated Pepper Steaks with Wild Mushrooms and Couscous. We’re not big meat eaters these days, but this dish was delicious. The beef is cut into thin strips, marinated and then stir fried. Then it’s mixed with mushrooms, bell pepper strips, sliced onions and diced roasted tomatoes. The wine was 19 Crimes 2017 Shiraz. It was a deep burgundy color and tasted stronger (or drier) than the first wine.

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Dessert was a Double Chocolate Lamington Cake with Coconut. It tasted like a coconut-coated brownie cake. While appealing to chocoholics, this dish might have been better served with a vanilla sauce. The last wine was a 19 Crimes Cabernet Sauvignon. It tasted very dry to our palates. Out of the three reds, we preferred the first one the best.

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We got the recommended app on our phone called Living Wine Labels. It’s fun to scan a 19 Crimes wine bottle label and see what happens. Overall, we greatly enjoyed this class, although it’s a lot to eat and drink by the time you’re done. We’d better go for some long walks this week to wear off the calories. I already know which class I want to sign up for next. Do you go to cooking classes or experiment with new dishes at home?

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Dining Adventures in Orlando

Aside from our culinary rounds at World Showcase’s marketplaces in Epcot as mentioned below, we sampled the cuisine at a variety of places in and around Orlando over the weekend. At Disney Springs, we ate at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen. The atmosphere was lively in this popular Orlando eaterie, and the service was good. I got their famous fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes and a cheese biscuit while Richard got a fish sandwich. My dinner platter came with three pieces of chicken. My opinion? The chicken had too much breading. I filled an entire salad plate with the pickings. You can get better fried chicken at Publix for half the price. The mashed potatoes were creamy as advertised but nothing special. The biscuit was surpassed by the ones at Red Lobster. This restaurant is a fun place to try once, but we weren’t impressed enough to return.

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Next stop was a repeat visit to The Big Easy, a New Orleans-style restaurant across the street from our condo in Windermere. I had the red beans and rice that came with corn bread. It was a tasty meal and a large enough portion for me to have leftovers, but it would have been even better if it came with a small salad. Richard had a Caesar salad with shrimp. There was live music and the bar was filled, so it can get pretty noisy inside. We like the food and the prices and will doubtless return here.

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Another night found us at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant, where I had salmon with asparagus couscous and Richard had the crab cake appetizer as his meal. The main entrees came with salad and garlic bread. I like the menu choices here and the prices are reasonable. The crowd tends to be older, but we seniors know a good bargain when we see one. Ask for an AARP discount.

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Following the Orlando Book Festival at Orlando Public Library, we met our family at Shari Sushi in the Thornton Park district. I ordered citrus crusted Scottish salmon with quinoa salad and Greek yogurt, while my husband had the crab meat salad. Neither of us was terribly impressed, although the younger folks among us loved the sushi there. Shari is a popular restaurant, so it clearly has its repeat fans.

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We couldn’t resist a visit to Beck Brothers Blueberries to pick our own basket full of plump, ripe berries. These are always good, and they stay fresh for a long time.

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All of these dining experiences made me gain two pounds, so now I have to work on getting the weight off so I can fit into my mother-of-the-bride outfits.

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