Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Out of this World Shrimp Saganaki

Although no one is cruising during the coronavirus pandemic, I know many folks are ready to get back on a boat. Hopefully travel will return in the summer or fall of 2020. 

Chef is ready for a cooking demonstration.
Celestyal Cruise Chef is ready for a cooking demonstration. 
One morning not too long ago (but in many ways, the trip seems years ago), I was in the Mediterranean aboard the Celestyal Crystal on their 3-Continent Cruise. Lucky me made my way to the ship’s main dining room to learn how to make a Greek specialty. The ship's executive chef was going to demonstrate how to cook shrimp saganaki, a dish he promised, we could easily replicate at home. Plus, it’s one that doesn’t take much time. 

He and the dish lived up to the promise. 

A steaming hot pan of Shrimp Saganaki.
A steaming hot pan of Shrimp Saganaki
The entrée includes shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil with a splash of ouzo. That alone sounds divine, but it all gets bathed in a rich tomato sauce, Especially good when the sauce is homemade, (Chef uses ripe tomatoes and tomato paste that he simmers for three hours.)  Before serving, sprinkle on feta cheese, an extra swirl of olive oil, and fresh herbs. Did you know there are more herbs in Greece than anywhere else in the world? 
Chef tops the dish with a crispy crostini on the side, or use garlic bread as an alternative. When I make this, I suspect I will use a jar of sauce from the grocery store. Fresh tomatoes are not always the best in Florida where I live. You may also substitute calamari, mussels or other seafood. 

A crosini tops a serving of Shrimp saganaki, ready for serving.
The plated dish is ready for serving.
Shrimp Saganaki: Compliments of Celestyal Cruises
 (6 servings)
1/4 c. chopped yellow onion
1-2 lbs. raw shrimp, deveined 
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 ripe tomato, chopped
2 cups of tomato sauce, homemade preferred.
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup ouzo
1/4 cup olive oil (use less depending on your prefrence)
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped and/or fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
Heat a pan and about 2 Tbsp of the olive oil.  When hot, sauté chopped onions until they turn translucent, just a few minutes. Add the chopped garlic, but don’t let it burn. 
Chef adds onion to the pan to begin saute.
Add onions and saute. 
Add the shrimp, stir well. Add more oil, if needed. 

Chef adds the shrimp.
Chef adds the shrimp.
Deglaze the pan with the dry white wine.
Add ouzo and ignite - if you want to impress your guests.

Sous chef adds the ouzo.
Sous chef adds the ouzo. 

Add the chopped tomato and tomato sauce and simmer a few minutes.

Chef adds the tomato sauce.
Chef adds the tomato sauce. 

When the sauce has become slightly thickened, remove from heat and add the feta cheese stirring lightly. Add chopped fresh herbs and check the final seasoning.

Add the feta cheese and stir gently.
Add the feta cheese and stir gently. 

 Do not overcook the shrimp.

The finished pan of Shrimp Saganaki is ready to serve.
The finished pan of Shrimp Saganaki is ready to serve.  
Plate and serve with toasted garlic crostini or garlic bread. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

When You've Got Apples, Bake an Apple Raspberry Pie

When it comes to apples in the South, a visit to  Hendersonville, North Carolina, is in order. The small city near Asheville ranks as the seventh-largest producer of apples in America. Who knew? Apparently, William Mills, one of the original settlers to the area, planted hundreds of apple trees around 1800. The fertile fields helped nurture the crops, and for decades growers sold their apples to wholesale buyers who made the fruit into applesauce, apple juice and other products. But, some of the buyers moved on, and today, many of the farmers sell their produce directly to consumers. And invite them to their farms.

Farm fresh apples in Hendersonville, NC

I was asked to participate in an agritourism tour in Hendersonville, and being fond of apples, accepted.  

Now, what exactly is agritourism? By definition: any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm, ranch or other business. You’d expect to visit apple orchards, and you’d be right. Families, often multi-generations, come together for autumn outings to the farms. They enjoy picking apples off the tree or choosing among the numerous varieties on sale. The farms also sell produce and small-batch products like apple butter, apple salsa, applesauce, and yummy bakery items such as fried apple hand pies and apple cider donuts. 

The Barn at Grandad's Orchard

The first stop was at Grandad’s Apples, beyond picking apples, visitors can get lost in the cornfield maze or jump around haystacks. The most fun, however, seemed to be shooting an apple cannon. Load an apple and fire at a target. The fruit explodes when it hits, bringing lots of laughs. Those hard to please teenagers love this activity. 

Shooting an apple cannon 

Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard offers three apple cannons (the appeal crosses all ages), tractor rides, and pick your own sunflowers as well as apples. Don’t miss their delicious apple slushy.  

Take a tractor ride at Stepp's Orchards. 

Lyda Farms is yet another family-friendly place. Folks come to shop for farm fresh apples and a vast selection of vegetables, including heirloom veggies. Visitors don’t pick their own here, except amongst the array offered in baskets. Juicy, the Giant Apple Bug is a favorite for kids. 

Juicy, the apple bug at Lyda Farms. 

Orchards aren’t the only places on an agritourism tour. Henderson County was recently named an official American Viticultural Area, and its three vineyards are producing surprisingly good wines. Burntshirt Vineyards runs an estate winery, meaning all the grapes used in their wines grow on site. Taste a dry or sweet wine flight or take a complimentary vineyard tour. 

Drive up to Point Lookout Vineyards and bask in a gorgeous mountain panorama seen from 2,900 feet. Their slogan: 30 mile views, even longer memories, seems to capture the essence of the place. Point Lookout Vineyards produce more than the typical red and whites, some of their varietals include plum, vanilla, blackberry, citrus or espresso. Had I room in my suitcase, I would have purchased the unexpectedly delicious coffee and chocolate blend, Javine Mocha Red Wine.  

Sunday afternoon wine tasting at Point Lookout Vineyards. 

In addition to some fine wine, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards is growing apple trees from Normandy, France. The owner wants to create a hard cider that tastes much like champagne. I had a sample that was utterly surprising and oh, so delicious. 

Apple Trees from Normandy, France growing in Hendersonville for future artisan cider.

Hard ciders have become very popular lately, and Hendersonville’s Bold Rock Cidery offers some of the finest. An incredible 70 tons of apples go through Bold Rock every week, all converted to hard cider and seltzer. Sit back, taste a cider flight, and learn about the apples that created them. 

Bold Rock Cider is made in Hendersonville. 

I wasn’t in town for the annual North Carolina Apples Festival. Still, it’s a yearly (multi-day) event around Labor Day that attracts over a quarter of a million people and sounds like fun. 

So many varieties of apples. 
Hendersonville is not all farms. The lively downtown shops are pedestrian-friendly and many excellent restaurants feature local farm produce. I especially enjoyed one called Shine, where from the rooftop, you can look down on Main Street while enjoying a dinner or a drink. 

Old Hendersonville Courthouse as seen from the rooftop deck of Shine. 

Divine duck at Shine. 

Don’t miss the McFarlan Bakery, also on Main Street. The bakers have been turning out decadent goodies since they opened in 1930. A few gift shops devote space to locally made arts and crafts. I was especially impressed with Woodlands Gallery. 

Apple Strudel at McFarlan Bakery. 

Naturally, I came home with a lot of apples, carefully carrying them in my carry-on for my flight. What did I do with those apples? I made a small cobbler and stored the rest in my refrigerator. I was told that apples wrapped in a plastic bag can be successfully stored for months. It’s true! Many weeks later, I baked an apple raspberry pie that turned out to be a winner. I’m sharing the recipe at the end of this post. 

My Apple Raspberry Pie 

I was truly surprised and delighted by the abundance of unusual attractions and all great food and wine in Hendersonville. I heartily recommend a visit to the area. 

Apple Raspberry Pie 

This recipe comes from a blog by Sommer Collier, A Spicy Perspective: 

I made a few minor adjustments.


  • Homemade pie crust or two 9-inch rollout pie crusts
  • 3 1/2 pounds firm apples I used Honey Crisps
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 12 ounces or two 6-ounce packages fresh raspberries 
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup raspberry or other berry preserves
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar


1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degree F and place the rack in the lowest position. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with pie crust dough. 

2.  Place the lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel and thinly slice all the apples (1/8- to 1/4-inch thick) tossing in the lemon juice as you add them to the bowl.

3.  Add the raspberries, granulated sugar, berry preserves, corn starch, spices, and salt to the apples. Gently toss the mixture by hand to coat. Scoop the raspberry apple filling into the pie crust. Shake a little so the filling settles into place.

4.  Roll out the second pie crust and cut into strips to make a lattice crust. Intertwine the strips across the top of the pie. Then whisk the egg and water to create an eggwash. Brush the eggwash over the top of the pie crust, then sprinkle the top of the crust with coarse Demerara or brown sugar.

5.  Place the pie in the oven, and LOWER THE TEMPERATURE TO 375 DEGREES F. The extra heat from the beginning gives the crust a little head start in baking. Bake the pie for 70-80 minutes, until golden and bubbly. If the crust starts to get dark, loosely cover with foil while baking. *Make sure you see the juices bubbling - otherwise the filling will be runny.

6.  This is the hard part... DO NOT cut the pie until it has cooled down to room temperature. I know it smells amazing and is very hard to resist, but the filling needs time to settle and set, so it's not soupy. If you cut your pie too soon, it will fall apart. I suggest making the pie in evening before you need it and let it rest overnight.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Springtime Color: Turkey Meatballs with Carrots and Yogurt Sauce

A colorful photo in an email caught my attention, and I decided the recipe looked so good, I just had to make it.

Turkey Meatballs with Carrots  and Yogurt Sauce as made by Debi Lander

I purchased the ingredients and began using the recipe from Epicurius by Anna Stockwell as the basis.  I modified it slightly deciding to make round meatballs instead of the suggested freeform look. The dish turned out to be what I considered an outstanding meal. The fresh flavors and spices came through, the taste was clean, bright and totally yummy!

You can make this recipe with ground beef, chicken or turkey.  I used ground turkey, but not ground turkey breast.  I think that would be too lean.

Fresh Carrots


1 1/2 pounds of small carrots, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
4-5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 t. kosher salt, divided
1 pound ground turkey
6 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten
2 Tbsp plain breadcrumbs
3 tsp finely grated lemon zest (1 lemon)
2 t. garam marsala spice
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt, full or reduced fat, not fat-free
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups baby argula or watercress


Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425 degrees.  Toss carrots, red pepper flakes, 2 Tbsp oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast on the lower rack, tossing or turning half way through. Roast until carrots are nicely browned and tender - 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix ground turkey, scallions, egg, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garam masala, 1-2 Tbsp oil and 1/2 t salt in bowl.  Form into meatballs.  Place on a second oiled rimmed baking sheet and roast on the upper rack.  I did not turn mine. I left them in for about 15-20 minutes. When done, I transferred to folded paper towels and dabbed off some of the fat.

Whisk yogurt and 2 Tbsp lemon juice and spoon over a platter or onto plates. I wanted to take a photo, so I then plated the carrots and meatballs on top of the yogurt sauce and sprinkled argula on top.

After the photo shoot, I served it onto plates with a handful of argula and sprinkled with a tiny dab finishing salt.

Inspiration taken from Epicurious

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Discovering North Carolina's Sonker Trail

Ever heard of Sonker?  I hadn't until I visited the Yadkin Valley in Surry County, North Carolina.  I went there to explore Mount Airy,  Andy Griffith's hometown and the model used for his television series The Andy Griffith Show. Throughout his life and Hollywood career Andy Griffith, and his role as Sherrif Taylor, portrayed a down home friendly feel.

Statue of Andy Griffith in Mayberry, aka Mt. Airy, NC.

Sonker fits in perfectly because it is not a fancy, beautifully presented dessert.  Sonker is similar to a cobbler or a potpie because it's made with unshaped dough, often sweetened with sugar or sorghum cane molasses. Some recipes call for a pie-like crust; others incorporate a breadcrumb topping.  Why, you can even make sonker in a pot on the stove, with a crust akin to dumplings.  (I wonder how Aunt Bee made hers?)

Peach Sonker 

Eight places in Surry County serve the dessert, now termed a heritage food, on their regular menu and each is different. The folks in those parts say sonker is similar to snowflakes – – no two alike. I had the opporunity to taste three over my visit.  I wrote the story of the Sonker Trail for Real Food Traveler, an online publication and I hope you will click here to read it:

Even more so, I hope you will consider a trip to the Yadkin Valley. The destination makes an ideal weekend getaway featuring mountains, bluegrass music, Mayberry, sonker, and excellent wine from localvineyards.
Take the Squard Car ride in Mayberry starting at Wally's Service Station.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Best Ever Corned Beef Brisket, Carrots and Potatoes

St. Patrick's Day calls for corned beef and cabbage.  Since my son Steve's birthday is also St. Patrick's Day, I often cooked the meal for his party. However, Steve is now the head of his own household, so I haven't fixed the dinner in a few years.

It's time to return to tradition.  I found a new recipe that calls for oven-roasting for about four hours and then topping the brisket with a mustard and brown sugas glaze under the broiler.  The result- a truly succulent and extremely tender slice of meat.

Tradtional food for St. Patricks Day includes corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes.

I share the recipe now:


1 package center cut corned beef brisket

1 lemon

1 medium onion, peeled

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon allspice

6-8 whole cloves

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup brown sugar

Optional: Baby carrots and small round potatoes


1.  Trim and discard most of the fat from the top of the corned beef brisket. Rinse meat under cool running water, rubbing gently to release its corning salt.

2.  Lay meat, fattiest side up, in a large oblong roasting pan. Thinly slice a lemon, discard seeds, and onion and lay slices over the meat. Sprinkle with spices.

3.  Pour boiling water around the brisket (4 or more cups), seal the pan with foil. Place pan on the middle rack in a 325-degree oven and roast.  After about two to two and a half hours, I added baby carrots and small potatoes. Continue cooking for a total of about four hours.

4. Remove and uncover. Spoon out the potatoes and carrots with a slotted spoon. Pour off the liquid and lemon and onion slices.

5.  In a small bowl, mix together the mustard and brown sugar. Spread evenly over the meat. Place pan with meat under the broiler (about 8 inces away) until the mixture begins to brown or boil.

6.  Transfer the roast to a platter and serve warm or cold.  Cut meat on at about a 45-degree angle. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lively Luna Fresada Cocktail at El Conquistador Resort

I recently flew into San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico. “Our country is shaped like a pig,” said my guide as she handed me a map. 

“I see a turtle, not a pig,” I responded. 

“No, no.  Definitely a piggy,” the guide insisted.  Pig or no pig, the airport bestowed a vibrant tropical feel, and that made me happy.

I hopped aboard a shuttle bus for a 45-minute ride to the El Conquistador Resort, a member of the Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, in Fajardo.  My purpose was to review the resort and its convention area for meeting planners.

Looking up at the El Conquistador Resort from the water

The sprawling hotel contains five villages and the grounds include an 18-hole golf course and water park. I’d have no problem adding steps to my fitness tracker walking around the property.  Most of the guest rooms overlook an endless stretch of shimmering turquoise water below a 300- foot cliff. The view is one of those "Pinch me, am I really here?" moments. 

An old-school funicular transports guests down to the Marina Village, the hub of a 35-slip private marina offering deep-sea fishing charters, sailboats, catamarans, and yachts. Here, I boarded the El Conquistador’s boat for private Palomino Island, a spot that I consider the best feature of the resort.  Palomino indulges guests with a full array of beach and watersport activities. Once ashore, I soon slipped into my bathing suit and did what a Caribbean vacation calls for: I lazed in a lounge chair under an umbrella sipping a frosty rum punch. The picture-perfect little island offered the ideal location for scenes in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, Johnny Depp stayed in the El Conquistador's luxury hideaway, Las Casitas Village, during the filming. 

Private Palomino Island

Food, beverage, and dining have become essential elements of travel. Like any discerning foodie, I feel tasting local fare is a must. Thankfully, the talented chefs at the El Conquistador create enticing meals by mixing the island’s heritage with current food trends. Culinary treats I devoured ran from island-grown coffee to piña coladas or DonQ rum punch in a coconut, and tostones (twice-fried garlicky green plantains).

I also tasted a ruby red Luna Fresada cocktail inspired by the colorful surroundings. Heidi Orndoff, a bartender at Chops Steakhouse, the resort’s signature restaurant, created the drink. Her tropical mixture contained Pitorro, a distilled spirit from Puerto Rico, referred to as “moonshine rum.” Pitorro is traditionally cured and aged by adding fruits like coconut, pineapple, tamarind and strawberries.  Heidi uses strawberry flavored rum.

Luna Fresada Cocktail

I adored the drink’s delicious and refreshing flavor so much, that I asked for the recipe. I now share the island memory with you:

Luna Fresada Cocktail Recipe

6 mint leaves chopped
2 strawberries chopped
4oz of lemonade
2.5oz of Pitorro Frutas Rum (strawberry flavor)

Directions: In the bottom of a glass, muddle chopped strawberries and mint leaves together. Stir in the lemonade and rum. Fill the glass with ice. Garnish with mint sprigs or strawberry slices as desired.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The French Fry Museum in Belgium

I visited the Belgium Friet or French Fry Museum in Bruges and wrote the story for Real Food Traveler.  Please click on the link below.