Dining Outside the Home: Key Lime Pie Bakery! Key limes are as popular in the Florida Keys as conch shells on the beach. If you’ve never tasted one, imagine this: Key limes are more aromatic as well as a bit smaller than regular limes, thus making them less acidic and more tart. By adding sugar, eggs, and a graham cracker crust, the results are a tangy, sweet, light, and creamy dessert that may or may not cry out for a delicious dollop of whipped cream. Merengue is definitely not out of the question either. Drop in for a single slice or an entire pie. It’s convenient enough to make a second trip.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Italian Bread Salad! Panzanella. Travel with me to Tuscany for a delightful dinner on a gardened terrace. Indulge in a bountiful salad of artisan bread, juicy tomatoes, sweet onions, and green bell peppers. Appreciate the herbs de Provence perfectly blended with garlic wine vinegar whisked in extra-virgin olive oil. It’s enough to make you swoon. The ingredients are very forgiving. Tomatoes a little soft? Has the bread gone stale? No worries. This classic Italian meal was originally meant to be eaten that way. It’s truly amazing!
ITALIAN BREAD SALAD
1-pound loaf artisan bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence, crushed
8 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine garlic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300°. Slice and cube the bread in bite-size pieces, leaving crusts on. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Form a single layer of bread cubes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with Herbs de Provence. Bake 10 minutes; flip over and bake 10 minutes longer. Cool. For dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine garlic vinegar, and sea salt. In a large salad bowl, combine bread with tomatoes, green pepper, and onion. Pour vinaigrette over all and toss to coat. Refrigerate for one hour before serving. Stir occasionally to blend flavors. Just before serving, gently toss with fresh basil. Add cracked black pepper to taste.
* Serving suggestion: Italian Bread Salad is best eaten the day it is made.
Dining Outside the Home: Pinchers Crab Shack in Key West, Florida! Sometimes you need to take a break from the noonday sun to whet your whistle. No worries, Happy Hour runs every day. Sit at the bar, a short distance from the stage where live music is very laid back, for the perfect vantage point for Duval Street commotion. Sip on classic cocktails, some with Cuban rum, and it won’t be long before you’ll be transported to warm southern beaches where ocean waves wash your worries away. When you get hungry, rely on local fishermen to supply the freshest seafood the Gulf has to offer. It’s all good at Pinchers.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Habanero Hot Sauce! Let’s kick things up a notch or two with one of the hottest known chili peppers legally sold in grocery stores. And I mean REALLY hot, compared to the average pepperoncini. The adorable orange lantern with its sweet-looking dimples can be deceiving. Its sting may feel as strong as a viper while simultaneously releasing an endorphin rush that’ll knock you off your feet. This is my fourth batch from the garden harvest. I’m hooked! However, it comes with a few words of caution: Wear gloves and avoid the juices near your face and eyes. While oven roasting, set the exhaust fan on High. When taste-testing, keep a wedge of white cheese nearby. It actually cuts the heat almost instantly. Be brave, my Peeps. Heed these simple rules. Then and only then, will you become the master of your own domain.
HABANERO HOT SAUCE
16-20 habanero peppers, halved, stems, and seeds removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1/8 teaspoon lime juice
Sea salt to taste
Place habanero pepper halves, skin side up in a single layer, on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick oil. Roast habanero peppers on High for 10 minutes, or until black spots appear. Remove. Using tongs, transfer habanero peppers to a covered bowl and allow to steam for 15 minutes. Using gloves, remove any loose skins; discard. Add peppers to a food processor. Pulse to a slightly coarse texture. Add minced garlic, orange juice, grapefruit juice, and lime juice. Pulse until desired consistency. Season with sea salt. Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Serve in dips, as a condiment, paired with ripe fruits in salsas, or on grilled meats.
Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Café in Key West, Florida! When a restaurant boasts of an abundance of hatch chiles and fresh, local ingredients, you begin to wonder if Santa Fe style Tex-Mex might be a good choice for dinner. Anytime the weather is hot, and the drinks are cold, it draws a crowd on Duval Street for seafood favorites, like skewered shrimp marinated in lime juice and ginger. Take a swig of on-the-rocks margarita. The salted rim offsets the spicy salsa you can’t resist tasting now and then. If you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of Happy Hour specials. There’s no rush here.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Timeless Classics: Gruyère Onion Soup! Everyone, sooner or later, falls in love with French Onion Soup, in my opinion. After all, who can resist the savory taste of caramelized onions, buttered croutons, and gooey melted cheese smothered in a beef broth that’s been splashed with a well-aged cognac? I wish I could tell you it’s as easy to make as opening a can of soup, but it isn’t. Don’t hate me. Let’s just say this…..if you are looking for an evening of mystery, romance, and excitement, then read on. This “soup de jour” may be the love potion that’ll woo the night away. Bon Appetît!
GRUYÈRE ONION SOUP
3 Vidalia onions, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
10 ounces beef consommé
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
4 ounces Montamoré cheese, crumbled
Splash of cognac
4 slices baguette, toasted
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
4 slices Gruyère cheese
Parsley flakes to garnish
In a shallow bowl, microwave sliced onions on HIGH for 2 minutes. In a large skillet, melt butter on low setting. Do not scorch. Layer onions over butter. Sprinkle with sea salt and Herbs de Provence. Cover and do not stir for 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir occasionally until onions are dark in color, another 10 minutes. Turn heat to High and add white wine and honey. Cook until wine is reduced and consistency is thick. Reduce heat to Simmer. Add apple cider vinegar, beef consommé, low-sodium chicken broth, and worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle soup into four oven-proof crocks placed on a heavy baking sheet. Add Montamoré crumbled cheese. Top with a splash of cognac. Place a toasted baguette slice on top of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Lay one slice of Gruyère cheese over each bowl, with corners slightly overlapping sides. Broil on High for 2 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Remove carefully! Garnish with parsley flakes and serve immediately.
“Find joy and solace in the simple,
and cultivate your utopia by feeling
the Tao in every cubic inch of space.”
~ Wayne Dyer
“People all over the world
have problems. And as long as
people have problems,
the blues can never die.”
~ B. B. King
Dining Outside the Home: Little Room Jazz Club in Key West, Florida! If you prefer to sit on the edge of the party, tuck your legs under a bar stool at a high table in a cozy corner of Little Room Jazz Club. Step back in time to an era of speakeasies and nightclubs. Pay attention as the piano player tickles the ivory keys in the glow of blue neon lights. Every now and then, requests ring out from regular patrons while first-timers absorb the melodic freedom of harmonic jazz enticing a head bob, toe tap, or other bodily motions. For those who like to nibble as they drink, a nice assortment of small bites are available on the menu. Choose an entertaining evening; experience it all.