Dining Outside the Home: Aqua in Naples, Florida! You can’t miss this Fifth Avenue restaurant because of the stunning cobalt blue goblets placed atop white tablecloths for open-air dining. Look above them and see the restaurant name: AQUA followed by Seafood & Steak. That says it all. The Mediterranean-style gourmet dishes satisfy whatever mood you’re in. Begin with a luscious bowl of New England Clam Chowder. Follow it up with the lightly grilled Romaine Caesar Salad. Ask for anchovies; you won’t regret it. Move on to the Chilean sea bass, lobster tail, crusted snapper, king crab legs, or calamari. There is no wrong choice. Others might gravitate toward a juicy filet mignon or perhaps a Berkshire pork chop. From land to sea, the choices are endless. It’s best to make it date night so you can nibble off each other’s plates. The night simply isn’t long enough to try everything your heart desires.
Dining Outside the Home: Steamers in Naples, Florida! For New England-style seafood in an unpretentious setting, it always helps to get a tip about where the locals go for incredible clam chowder with a side of fried clam strips and hush puppies. The menu offers way more than steamed scallops, sautéed shrimp, fried clams, blackened fish, and lobster tails. Unfortunately, I can’t get past the taste of my favorite combination enough to find out how delicious everything else is. What I can confirm, is that people stand in line or meander around the busy strip mall to wait for a table inside or out. It feels like family the way the staff interacts with customers. When you get the craving, remember Steamers for outstanding seafood at a pretty decent price.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Velvety Seafood Chowder! Everyone who has enrolled a child or grandchild in preschool is probably familiar with the folk tale known as “Stone Soup”. The story goes, a bunch of starving strangers enter a small village to convince the townspeople to share one ingredient from their root cellars to make a fantastic meal. The strangers produce a magic “stone”, which they place into a large cauldron filled with water. As the pot is cooking over a wood fire, one by one, the curious residents walk by. They are told the soup is almost ready but needs a “little of this or a pinch of that”. The villagers happily agree to throw in everything from carrots and onions to meat and potatoes to enhance the flavor. By the time the medley is fully cooked, the stone is removed and the hearty soup is shared among them. What a wonderful tradition.
VELVETY SEAFOOD CHOWDER
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning*
1/8 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 stalk celery, sliced
1/2 carrot, chopped
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup corn
5 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup crabmeat, flaked
6 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
6.5-ounce can clams, drained and chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley
In a heavy pan over medium heat, warm butter. Add diced onion. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning, thyme, and flour. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sliced celery, chopped carrots, cubed potatoes, corn, chicken broth, and white wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flaked crabmeat, peeled shrimp, chopped clams, and heavy cream. Cook until seafood is fully cooked, heated through, and potatoes are tender, approximately 8-10 minutes. Ladle into bowls; garnish with fresh parsley.
*I receive no recompense for mentioning this product.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Table Food: Unforgettable Wild Ramp Bacon Chowder! For American hunter-gatherers, as well as European foragers of gourmet plants, wild ramps are as coveted as the elusive morel mushrooms. Since the leafy garlic bulbs are popular with curiosity seekers, in addition to critters of the woods, the quest for a fragrant “bouquet” becomes a challenge between man and beast. Who will get there first to reap the wild-growing delicacy? Perhaps both have their secret stomping grounds. I invite you to stick around awhile to sample the wide variety of ways to enjoy wild ramps.
UNFORGETTABLE WILD RAMP BACON CHOWDER
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
1/2 cup ramps roughly chopped, bulbs and greens
1 potato, skin on and diced
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Crumbled bacon, for garnish
Charred ramp greens, for garnish
In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, sauté ramps in bacon drippings until soft. Add diced potatoes, chicken broth, seasoned salt, and garlic and herb seasoning. Simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked thoroughly. Reduce heat to low. Add coconut milk, cheddar cheese, and red pepper flakes. Stir well to combine. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, but do not boil. Gently heat for 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes to thicken. Ladle into soup bowls; garnish with crumbled bacon and charred ramp greens.
Dining Outside the Home: The Mariner in Mystic, Connecticut! In the center of Historic Downtown Mystic enjoy a meal, or two, at this upscale coastal restaurant where the seafood is fresh, food is made from scratch, and the cocktails go down real smooth. Try their version of New England Clam Chowder. Made with the freshest clams, the richest cream, and a secret recipe they’ll take to their grave. Is it any wonder it’s the top favorite in the restaurant? But don’t stop there. The gourmet chef also specializes in Italian cuisine from pastas to gnocchi as well as dry-aged steakhouse attractions that include tender filets and pan roasted rib eyes. Are you getting the picture? Perhaps you need to make The Mariner your regular eating house.
Dining Outside the Home: S&P Oyster Restaurant and Bar in Mystic, Connecticut! Pull up a chair at a table for two overlooking life on the Mystic River. This waterfront restaurant checks all the boxes. Outdoor seating, check. Fresh seafood, check. Cozy atmosphere, check check. Sample a bowl of New England Clam Chowder. It’s rich creamy base will make you swoon. There’s enough to share. Leave room for their famous Lobster Roll. It’s stuffed with sweet lobster tail and hand-picked claw meat. The savory mayonnaise sauce has been infused with South American flair. You’ve probably never tasted anything like it. Sit back, mingle, nibble, and keep your eye on the Bascule Bridge. During daylight hours, it raises at 40 minutes past the hour or on demand.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Appetizers to Desserts: Maque Choux Soup! This fancy name for Spicy Corn Chowder is pronounced “mock shoe”. (Sometimes I get a kick out of acting like a gourmet chef, so humor me a little bit.) Believe me when I say use the freshest garden ingredients in making this rich bodied soup. You won’t regret it. Since I freeze the wonderful Indiana sweet corn in its prime, along with the garden green bell peppers, the flavors seemed to burst forth in jubilation. If you can’t find fresh produce, try frozen as a substitute. I also had saved some smoky end pieces from a baked Virginia ham recently for a nice salty finish.
MAQUE CHOUX SOUP
2 cups whole-kernel corn
1/3 cup green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons cornmeal, finely ground
1/2 cup smoked ham, diced
In an iron skillet over medium high heat, add half the corn, onion, and green pepper. Cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes until vegetables begin to char. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. Add the vegetable oil and cumin to the skillet and repeat process with remaining corn, onion, and green pepper. Transfer to the same bowl. Take 1 cup of mixture, add 1 cup of chicken broth and blend until slightly smooth. (I used a food processor on pulse.) Meanwhile, in a 2-quart pan, boil potatoes in remaining chicken broth seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. If necessary add enough water to keep it from boiling dry. Reduce heat to medium low and add one cup milk. Simmer, stirring often. Add corn mixture and creamed corn mixture to potato base. Simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk together sour cream and cornmeal in a measuring cup. Slowly add hot soup to it. This will keep the sour cream from curdling. Then slowly pour it back into the corn chowder. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until soup thickens. Add diced ham. Heat through. Serve hot. Garnish with cheddar cheese and ham pieces.
Dining Outside the Home: Blue Lobster Grille in Rockport, Massachusetts! Some days it pays off to forego classic menu items and roll with the specialty of the gourmet chef, especially when it comes to seafood. Today’s feature: Stuffed Haddock in a creamy butter sauce. Agnoldo Oliveira takes his reputation seriously. Never mind that the Blue Lobster Grille affords the perfect vantage point of Rockport’s iconic Motif No. 1 as well as daily activity around Dock Square. You’ll find yourself trying not to stare at the heaping plates of those customers around you. It’s that good!
Dining Outside the Home: Petey’s Summertime Seafood in Rye, New Hampshire. The menu said “Award-Winning Clam Chowder”, just the facts sprinkled with a second helping of bragging rights. As the waitress swept by our table, balancing a tray of four steaming bowls of clam chowder surrounded by cracker packets, it left behind an amazing aroma too tempting to resist. First course decided. Next up, an incredible dish known as “Baked Stuffed Lobster Pie ‘n Butter”. When the staff recommends something they eat (often) themselves, prepare to enter Lobster Heaven. It truly does exist.