Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Product Testing: Hoisin Garlic Sauce

Stir-fry is one of my favorite meals to fix because I live alone, and one preparation often contains enough leftovers for a second or third meal. I also find its a great way to use up whatever veggies I have in the house: peppers, broccoli, carrots, green beans, spinach, garlic and onions.

I rarely have asparagus, but bought some specifically to try this recipe. You see, I received a complimentary bottle of SoyVay Hoisin Garlic Marinade and Sauce, and they enclosed a recipe card. It sounded good, so I figured I'd try it. Also, I always use hoisin sauce when making stir-fry, and the addition of garlic sounded great. 

I followed the provided recipe, which I share below.  The meal was inexpensive, easy to prep and speedy, about 10 minutes cooking time. However, I must say I'd recommend using plain hoisin sauce in the future.  I found the Hoisin Garlic blend had too much salt and was thinner than the plain variety. Therefore, you had to use more, adding to the long-term expense.

I enjoyed the snappy taste of the asparagus spears and the crunch of the unsalted cashews. (unsalted is important, as I already mentioned, because the sauce is high in sodium.) I think the addition of some red pepper strips would give the dish more color. 

I applaud Soy Vay for adding no preservatives to their Hoisin Garlic sauce.

For more recipe ideas, visit:

Garlic Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry

Garlic Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry
    Compliments of SoyVay

•    1 tbsp. olive oil
•    1 lb. flank steak, sliced think into bite-size pieces for stir-fry
•    salt and pepper, to taste
•    1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into diagonal 1-inch lengths
•    1/2 cup Soy Vay® Hoisin Garlic sauce
•    1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews

•    1. In a wok or large nonstick pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the flank steak, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the beef, until browned on all sides. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

•    2. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, set aside, and pour off the fat from the pan. Add the asparagus to the pan, and cook for 2–3 minutes until crisp-tender.

•    3. Return the meat to the pan, add the sauce and toss to coat. Stir in the nuts, and cook for 1 minute more. Season again if needed. Serve hot over rice or noodles.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fabulous Finds: Boise Fries and Guru Donuts

Flying to Boise from St. Augustine became a long journey.  I left my condo at 4:15 am to drive two hours to the Orlando Airport for a flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul.  After a layover in Minnesota, I caught a flight to Boise.  Twelve hours from my start,  I was met by Tony Harrison representing Taste Idaho. Tony graciously treated me to a late lunch at Boise Fry Company.

   Guru Donuts and Boise Fry Company

Lunch at Boise Fry Company

Tony's restaurant choice was sensational. I ordered a bison burger with what they call "Original Toppings" consisting of spring mix, tomato, red onion gastrique and garlic aioli.  The red onion combination packed a hint of sweetness and the juicy, but not fatty, burger satisfied my hungry stomach. So much so that I didn't need to eat dinner. By the way, the burgers are considered sides to the famous Boise Fries.

Yes indeed, the fries at Boise Fry Company are something to rave about; the establishment is renown for the selection of freshly prepared french fries. Choose between Russet, Gold, Laura, Yam, Sweet, Purple or Okinawa potatoes and about 20 twenty salt combinations and another ten or so dipping sauces.

I chose purple fries and they arrived crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside.  I added rosemary and basil salt, and a dash of sea salt, and picked garlic aioli, spicy ketchup and regular ketchup for dipping. While each sauce was delicious, call me boring; I preferred plain old ketchup.

Guru Donuts

Guru Donuts is a new addition to one side of the Boise Fry Company restaurant. Their display cases contain the most strikingly beautiful creations I have ever seen.  All of the donuts are homemade from scratch. Even the glazes are mixtures from scratch, adding creativity through fun flavors, fresh fruits, herbs, spices and even a little booze. The fillings are also homemade from ingredients like local berries turned into jams and fresh made pastry cream with real vanilla bean. No artificial ingredients and no preservatives.  Even the sprinkles are dyed with fruits and vegetable dyes.

After eyeing the delights in the afternoon, I simply had to return to Guru Donuts for breakfast.  WOW- best decision ever, except for my waistline.  I chose the signature Hipsterberry donut. It's a wildberry lavender glazed raised donut. The Hipsterberry glaze packs its punch from organic and wild blueberries and marionberries smashed into a jam with culinary lavender. The taste is melt in your mouth donut nirvana - a bold and tangy topping over sweet pastry. 

I'm told the Guru baker arrives around midnight to start making the batter and the glazers come in around 3 am.  The donuts are ready for the early customers by 6 am.  Carrie, who works behind the counter said they sell about a thousand a day and occasionally run out.  She claimed it was difficult to work in the shop because she is so tempted to try everything.  I couldn't agree more.   


Guru Donuts and Boiise Fry Company
204 North Capitol Boulevard
Boise, Idaho

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sensational Seafood Chowder and Lobster

I've been to Nova Scotia three times, and each visit gets better than the last. It’s a Canadian province on the east side of Maine, and the name means New Scotland.  I fly into the capital city of Halifax and find mystical greenery and shimmering blue lakes all around.  The people are friendly, the towns are clean, and visitors and residents find a diverse range of options and adventures. 
A Nova Scotia Lobster

One of the best things about going to Nova Scotia is the food, especially the lobster. On my latest trip I discovered that Nova Scotia is the largest exporter of lobsters and blueberries. 
Fresh blueberry pancakes with Maple Syrup

When in Canada, eat Canadian - right? So, many mornings I started my day with fresh blueberry pancakes topped with real maple syrup.

Seafood chowder became a lunch favorite and I some of the finest came from the Liscombe Lodge and Bistro East in Annapolis Royal. Temperatures in Nova Scotia run cooler than Florida, so I let every spoonful warm my body and soul. But, no wonder it's so filling, the recipe calls for heavy whipping cream, 2% milk, and butter.
Seafood Chowder with Mussels

Lobster rolls rank high as another lunch treat and only one word is needed to describe them: YUM. No work involved, just lovely, large chunks of the cold-water crustacean with a light touch of mayo on a home baked roll.
A Luscious Lobster roll

The best meal, however, remains fresh, pipping-hot lobster pulled out of a large pot. When cooking, begin with one quart of water per pound and one tablespoon of salt if not using seawater. Figure on boiling 12 minutes per pound, but don’t count on it. Pull one of the antennae: if it comes out easily, lobster’s done. If not, keep boiling and steaming.
A Lobster goes into the cooking pot.

Remove from the pot and let your lobster cool a bit. Then twist or cut off the claws, crack with a nutcracker. Toss the body. Take the tail in hand, stretch and squeeze it then twist the meat out. Don't forget the meat inside the tail fan. Dip the pieces in melted butter and enjoy the luscious sweet taste.
Chef explains how to eat a lobster.

My dinner at the Liscombe Lodge included a perfect accompaniment: coleslaw. Chef Anne MacDougall added a light touch of mayonnaise and created a snappy tang between the vinegar and sugar, giving the slaw a sweet and sour flavor.  I enjoyed it so much I asked for the recipe and share it below.  She was also kind enough to include the seafood chowder recipe.
Everyone wears a bib when eating lobster.

Recipes from Anne MacDougall, chef, Liscombe Lodge Resort and Conference Center
A bowl of Coleslaw

Creamy Coleslaw, a favorite side with lobster
Makes one medium bowl

1 head cabbage, shredded
½ cup carrots, shredded
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp sugar**
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp celery salt
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine cabbage and carrots.
Whisk together mayo, sugar, vinegar and celery salt.
Add mayo mixture to cabbage and carrot mixture.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

** You may want to add more sugar if desired
I ate so much lobster, I turned into one.

Liscombe Lodge Seafood Chowder
Serves 12 people

2 lbs haddock
1 lb scallops
8 oz lobster
½ cup onion, chopped finely
½ cup celery, chopped finely
½ cup carrots, chopped small
¼ cup butter
2 tbsp fresh thyme
¼ cup of flour
2 cups fish stock
4 cups potatoes, diced small
4 cups of whipping cream
2 cups of 2% milk
Salt & Pepper to taste

Saute onions, celery and carrots in butter until tender
Add Thyme
Stir in flour –cook 3 minutes
Slowly add fish stock- stirring constantly
Add potatoes cook until tender
Add all fish and simmer for 5 minutes – or until fish is cooked
Add whipping cream and milk.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Simmer for 30 minutes
Add a teaspoon of butter on top and serve.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Vodka or Tequila: Florida Mule versus the Mexican Mule

In March 2014, after many red-tape delays, a distillery finally opened in St. Augustine, Florida, my hometown. The St. Augustine Distillery makes vodka and gin from locally grown ingredients and Florida grown sugar cane. They offer free tours to the public and anyone over 21 can taste a sample. Their products have earned grand reviews and numerous awards.  I love taking visitors to the place and am a fan.
The St. Augustine Distillery
The Ice Plant sits next door to the Distillery, a farm-to-table restaurant where bartenders make artisanal drinks, squeezing fresh juice never using mixes. One of the specialty drinks at the Ice Plant is a Florida Mule, a take on the famous Moscow Mule. I have fallen for this refreshing concoction, even purchasing copper mugs and their ingredients so I can make the drink at home.

Suaza 901 Triple Distilled Tequila
One day recently, a bottle of Justin Timberlake branded Sauza 901 Tequila showed up to my house. The tequila's name comes from Timberlake’s hometown area code in Memphis, Tennessee. I love a margarita, but am not the biggest fan of straight tequila. Nonetheless, in the name of research, I thought I'd better try.

To my chagrin, the stuff was smooth, somewhat citrusy and tasted great straight from a shot glass.  Perhaps that's because Sauza 901, an 80-proof agave-based liquor,  is triple distilled (as opposed to the industry standard, double distillation process). Jameson Whiskey employs a similar triple distillation process, and I know it earns raves from whiskey fans. So this woman will go on record stating, " Sauza 901 tequila is extremely easy to drink with hints of citrus and is even better over ice."

Adding ice got me to thinking, what other cocktails could I use it in?  I researched a few websites and found a Sauza 901 recipe for a Mexican Mule from the Beverage Media Group.  Drink DuJour claims it is JT's favorite. I thought, how about a throwdown contest between a Mexican Mule and my Florida favorite?

The Florida Mule topped with fresh mint
I mixed the drinks identically, except I used Sauza 901 tequila in one and St. Augustine vodka in the other.  I combined one part alcohol, with two parts ginger beer and freshly squeezed juice from half of a lime. I placed both drinks in copper mugs and added shaved ice.  Ole!

I hate to admit it, but the Mexican with Sauza 901 tequila was the winner. Not that I don't still love the St. Augustine Distillery, but the tequila-based drink was more flavorful and thirst quenching. Perfect for a summer afternoon or happy hour. So bottoms up to a Mexican Mule in Florida.

Mexican Mule
1 part Sauza® 901® Tequila
2 parts ginger beer
Juice of ½ lime
Directions: Put all ingredients in a copper mug and add shaved ice; stir. A slice or lime or fresh mint adds a little pizzazz.

Next I'm going to try a Sauza 901 Ruby Sparkler as found on the Latin website.

Ruby Sparkler Ingredients:

5 raspberries, plus more for garnish
2 parts Sauza 901 Tequila
1 part fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part simple syrup

In a mixing glass, muddle five raspberries. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Strain before serving over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with skewered raspberries.

For fun, check this out.

Sauza created a very clever video about their tequila causing a break-up with limes. 
Watch it here:

All photos @Debi Lander

Monday, July 27, 2015

History Tastes like Chocolate at Charlton's Coffee House in Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg, America's oldest and largest living history experience, remains near and dear to my heart. At times, I have felt like I lived and walked along Duke of Gloucester Street when Williamsburg was Virginia's 18th-century capital. That street runs from the late 17th-century "Wren building" of the College of William and Mary to the reconstructed Capitol. "The Revolutionary City" now rests within a 301-acres Historic Area, most of which is closed to traffic. Folks stroll along or take carriage rides, stopping to see craftsmen at work and merchants in their shops. I was excited to return to one of my most favorite places in the world.
The Colonial Capitol Building in Williamsburg, Virginia
Photo @ Debi Lander

The day began by parking at the Visitor's Center and hopping a shuttle bus. I got off to tour the colonial Capitol building with friends Judy and Carol. Afterward, we came upon R. Charlton's Coffee House. During its heyday, this was the perfect location for attracting thirsty merchants and politicians leaving the Capitol. Today, it appealed to us; why sure, I could use a mid-morning coffee. Besides, the coffee house wasn't open the last time I visited the town.
At the Sign of R. Charlton
Photo @ D Lander

Reconstruction of the site began in 2008 and a team of researchers, curators, tradespeople and builders completed the restoration in November 2009. The coffee house like all other buildings in Williamsburg is an authentic recreation and is experienced with the aide of historic interpreters: folks that take on the persona of an early 18th-century character and engage with visitors. In keeping with its legacy, R. Charlton's Coffeehouse serves samples of coffee and chocolate to guests. But, only about a dozen visitors may enter at a time, so we had a short wait on the front porch.

The Front Porch of R. Charlton's Coffee House
Photo by Debi Lander

Hostess Greets Visitors
by Debi Lander
We were greeted by a hostess and entered a rather elegant room with fine furnishing and wallpaper.  We sat while she explained the history of coffeehouses and the room. This was a private space typically rented for special gatherings. You see Charlton's wasn't just an 18th century Starbucks where you ordered a coffee-to-go.  Oh no, it was a popular stop for Williamsburg elite, a place for digesting words as much as coffee. Gentlemen and politicians would sit around tables with steaming cups and hash out problems or make deals. It became a gathering place and sounding board for rebellion in the American colonies.

Serving hot chocolate
Our tour ended up in the southwest room, the public room - much like a tavern. This room included a bar in one corner, a fireplace and some small tables with chairs. Here we met Mr. Charlton and his brother. They chatted about their business, and we were served our choice of coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate in dainty china cups. I recommend the hot chocolate, it’s a thick and authentic blend of cocoa, vanilla, cayenne, and just a pinch of sugar. The three of us enjoyed its luscious feel and taste in our mouths along with the repartee of the proprietors.
Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate

Charlton’s coffeehouse was the first major reconstruction on Duke of Gloucester Street in fifty years. While it's part relic and part fantasy,  I enjoyed the establishment and the way visitors are spoon fed tidbits of history.
A Cup of Colonial Hot Chocolate

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Rhubarb at Rhubard: Asheville, NC

Downtown Asheville, NC buzzes with activity like a university campus on graduation day. From fancy dress to cutoffs and tees, folks dine in small eateries serving up gourmet and down-home dishes. Musicians serenade on street corners adding a rhythmic beat to the air. And, outdoor enthusiasts hustle up mountainous roads: bicycling, jogging, hiking while others practice yoga in the plaza. Cheers to this happening crossroads where visitors and locals thrive on the eclectic hum.   
Yoga in downtown Asheville

When I arrived for dinner at Rhubarb on Pack Square, one of Asheville's renowned downtown restaurants, I found the place in a rhubarb. Now, most people think the word rhubarb means reddish stringy stalks of fruit used in pies, but the Oxford English Dictionary defines a slang usage as "the noise made by a group of actors to give the impression of indistinct background conversation or to represent the noise of a crowd." How apt. The Tourism Council was filming a spot in the restaurant, so lights, cameras, and actors were skuttling around. I was still able to slip into a corner, keenly observe, and still enjoy a meal.
Oudoor Dining at Rhubarb  Courtesy of

I started my dining experience with the signature cocktail, a Rhubarb Collins. The slightly pinkish drink comes in a tall, slim glass; a mix of vodka and house made strawberry rhubarb soda. The bubbly liquid bursts with an effervescence that is refreshing, perhaps just a little too light for my tastes.

Crispy and spicy cauliflower became the appetizer of choice. This dish reminded me of India, somewhat hot, but not too pungent with a cooling dipping sauce. Yummy.

My entree, well...what else: Rhubarb Glazed Duck Confit. The preparation was spot on; crispy on the outside and tender and moist within. The sautéed greens were not overcooked and complimented by a thinly-sliced sweet potato layer hidden underneath. The portion was perfectly sized, but for many Americans, likely a tad small.

Keeping up the theme, I simply had to finish the meal with Rhubarb Crisp. A generously sized dessert arrived with dollops of Lemon-Thyme Anglaise and a beautiful fresh pansy in the center. Divine, but then again, I love cobbler! The recipe tasted tangy and not too sweet. Additional pieces of rhubarb and rye crumble garnished the edges making the entire effect delicious. 

I was also treated to another house special, The Snix: milk chocolate semifreddo, hot boiled peanuts, salted peanut brittle and drizzled with caramel. Order this to die for dessert if you want sweetness.
Chef John Fleer

Chef John Fleer, a three-time finalist for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast” award, came out to meet me, a most personable and a happy man. He smiled and laughed during the photo shoot and I commented on his happiness. He says it comes from loving his choices. He moved his family from the award-winning Blackberry Farm in Tennessee to Asheville. He adores the vibrant community and maintains a close relationship with local farmers and suppliers. We seemed to agree that a happy chef makes a happy restaurant and Rhubarb indeed is. I'd be delighted to return again.

Rhubarb: 7 SW. Pack Square;
Beautiful Skyline of Asheville, NC
Courtesy of

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Martini for All Seasons: Pomegranate

Whether it's Christmas or the Fourth of July, pomegranate martinis flaunt the essence of perfection. The gorgeous deep ruby-magenta liquid tastes divine and makes them my choice for any occasion. But beware; the luscious smooth drink also packs a powerful punch.

Christmas Day Martini

Seems pomegranates burst on the scene about 5-10 years ago, but according to the Pomegranate Council, they've been around for 4,000 years.  The fruit bangs out walloping high levels of vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, fiber, and is low in calories. The popular brand Pom supplies grocery stores with pomegranate juice in a variety of flavor combinations.

Party planners find the red hue ideal for themed drinks during Christmas holidays, Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and even Veteran's Day. At Thanksgiving simply can add one jigger of cranberry juice. Sadly, these drinks don't fulfill the needs for St. Patrick's Day or Halloween, but so many other libations do. Anytime you need a reddish-purple drink accent, make pomegranate martinis the special of the day.
Memorial Day, Veteran's Day or the 4th of July Martini 

My personal martini recipe contains vodka although you can substitute gin if that is your preference. Since I live in St. Augustine, I use St. Augustine Vodka from the hometown distillery. It's made with Florida-grown sugarcane. The recipe is versatile depending on your tastes. One friend prefers orange juice in place of Grand Mariner, and I've also filled in with fresh lemon juice although that tastes a bit tarter.

To prepare: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and then add two jiggers of vodka, one of Grand Mariner, one of Pomegranate liqueur and two jiggers of plain pomegranate juice.  Shake, strain and pour into a martini glass. 

My choice ingredients: Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, St. Augustine Vodka, Grand Mariner and Pom Juice

I prefer to float pomegranate seeds in the glass; however, an orange slice works well. Use a lemon or lime as garnish if that is all you have. For other cocktails made with pomegranate juice check out the recipes from Pom: Pom Cocktails.

An open pomegrante  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Pomegranates keep very well while in season, therefore, they add color in a fruit bowl and make lovely holiday decorations. Getting to the seeds is a bit tricky, but here's the easiest way. Cut the fruit into a few sections. Submerge each section in a bowl of water and use your fingers to ease the seeds free. Strain when done.  Forget juicing - I think it is much easier to buy the precious liquid. 

Did you know: The name "pomegranate" derives from the Middle French "pomme garnete" - literally "seeded apple." It is sometimes referred to as a Chinese apple. Many scholars believe that the forbidden - yet irresistible - fruit in which Eve indulged within the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate (and not an apple). Pomegranates have been used as symbols of prosperity, hope, and abundance in every part of the world."