Pick Your Parking: Pickled Shrimp Toasts

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Pickled Shrimp Toasts

I’m going to say “Pickled Shrimp Toasts” out of one side of my mouth and say “Hollywood Bowl” out of the other side. Of course, I’d rather be putting Pickled Shrimp Toasts into both sides of my mouth. But before I do that I think I need to explain why I would attempt such a ridiculous feat of Pickled Shrimp/Hollywood Bowl verbal dexterity.

Let’s start with the Hollywood Bowl. You see, I live quite close to the Hollywood Bowl, which is lovingly known as “The Bowl” where I live.

In case you don’t know, The Bowl is one of the leading outdoor music venues of the world. It has a long, glamorous history. It’s a mecca for summer concerts in Southern California. Making it one of the top 10 reasons to live in Los Angeles. Which means pretty much every Angeleno who’s able goes to The Bowl at least once a summer.

As wonderful as the Hollywood Bowl is, there’s only one problem. It’s a problem a lot of places in Los Angles share, but it’s a particularly large problem at The Bowl.

Of course I’m talking about parking. It’s stacked, it’s horrendous, it’s hard to avoid. It can destroy a perfectly wonderful night of music under the stars.

Fortunately for me, I live close to The Bowl. So close I can walk.

Problem solved, at least for me. Unfortunately for my friends – many of them do not live close. So my driveway has become a much-coveted parking spot. Some of my neighbors actually charge to let folks park in their driveway. It’s true.

But I’m not one of those people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My driveway is open to a first-come-first-served basis. It also comes with an unspoken open door policy.

Which means any night of the week a grateful friend might show up (sometimes with a bottle of wine in hand) to (ostensibly) say thank you for that once-in-a-summer opportunity to skip the parking hell at The Bowl and actually enjoy the experience.

What I’m trying to say is not only do I not charge, I provide appetizers!

Pickled Shrimp Toasts

Sweet and briny, faintly spicy pickled shrimp are one of those surprising taste treats that has everyone rushing into the kitchen to see how you made them. In fact, you didn’t do very much at all, which is what makes pickled shrimp such a great choice for those first-come-first-served parking friends.

They’re a great make-ahead because the shrimp can remain covered with the pickling liquid and will last for a couple of days in the fridge. Keep in mind that the longer they sit in their pickle liquid, the picklier they get.

But no one seems to mind how pickley they get because they know they’ve avoided a “pickle” of a parking situation. GREG

Pickled Shrimp Toasts

Pickled Shrimp Toasts with Tomatoes and Whipped Ricotta

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 18Published
Pickled Shrimp Toasts with Tomatoes and Whipped Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil (plus more for bread slices)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning)
  • 2 teaspoon coriander seeds (lightly crushed)
  • 18 medium raw shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails removed)
  • 1 jalapeño (thinly sliced)
  • 2 pound small to medium heirloom tomatoes (various colors would be nice)
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta
  • 18 slice rustic bread (cut into about 3x 3-inch pieces, 3/4-inch thick)
  • chopped chives (as garnish)
  • lemon wedges (for spritzing)
  • hot sauce (optional, as garnish)

Directions

Pickle the shrimp: Stir together vinegar, ½ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, and coriander seeds in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high. Remove the pan from the heat and add shrimp, and jalapeño slices. Cover pan and let stand about 10 minutes before uncovering the pan and stirring. Re-cover the pan and allow the shrimp and jalapeño to come to room temperature before using. Alternatively, the room temperature shrimp and jalapeño may be left in their liquid, covered and refrigerated up to 48 hours before using.

Prepare the tomatoes: Halve the tomatoes and then slice halves into ½-inch-thick pieces; place on a plate, and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Make the ricotta: Place ricotta in the bowl of a mini food-processor fitted with the metal blade. Season generously with salt and pepper. Process until smooth and light, about 30 seconds. Set aside. You may alternatively whip by hand.

Make the toasts: Brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil.

Preheat grill or grill pan to high. Place bread on grill, and grill, uncovered, until toasted, about 1 minute and 30 seconds per side.

Assemble toasts: Spread about 2 tablespoons ricotta mixture on each toasted bread slice. Choose the nicest tomato slices to top toasts from edge to edge. You might not use them all. Nestle in a drained pickled shrimp and a couple of slices of jalapeños on top of each toast. Garnish with chives, a squeeze of lemon, and, if desired, a dash of hot sauce. Serve immediately.

Chilled Sungold Tomato Soup

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Chilled Sungold Tomato and Corn Soup

It’s hot in Los Angeles. It’s not supposed to be hot here. It’s supposed to be 76 and sunny. But, more and more it seems, it gets hot in LA. When that happens a cold soup – full of ripe, summery flavor – is a refreshing relief. Sweet like summer and a little bit spicy, this chilled Sungold tomato soup combines tomatoes and corn to find just the right balance to cool down a hot summer night. It’s remarkably sophisticated despite how few ingredients are actually in the bowl.

That’s because the tomatoes are the star of this chilled soup. But not just any tomato. I made this golden bowl of chilled tomato soup using super sweet Sungold tomatoes fresh from the farm.

Sungold Tomatoes

Sungold tomatoes are sweet. They have one of the highest Brix ratings (a measurement for the sugar content in fruits and vegetables) of any tomato. Meaning Sungolds are just about the sweetest tomato you will ever eat. In fact, they’re so sweet and juicy they’ll remind you that tomatoes are indeed fruits. Put a bowl of these bite-size, bumblebee-yellow beauties on the counter and watch yourself sneaking handfuls like a kid in the cookie jar.

But you probably won’t find Sungold tomatoes at a supermarket near you. They don’t travel well because their skins are so thin. They can crack on the vine when it rains or burst during shipping. The big farms stay away from growing them. Thankfully, Sungold tomatoes, which aren’t an heirloom variety but are a hybrid bred specifically for sweetness, are a staple of many backyard gardeners and can also be found at many farmers’ markets.

Chilled Sungold Tomato Soup

I could call this Chilled Sungold Tomato Summer Soup a gazpacho – but I’m not going to. True it’s a chilled soup featuring raw vegetables, but this summer tomato soup is more delicate than its rustic Spanish cousin. Besides I like the idea of a summer soup – whether it’s a traditional blending of tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper, onion, oil and vinegar as in gazpacho – or something less expected like today’s sweet tomato and spicy corn pairing. However, there’s a secret to keeping these soups from becoming little more than pulverized salad.

That secret is balance, and you probably knew that.

Traditional gazpacho balances bright acidity with aromatic flavors. A poorly made gazpacho has aggressively raw flavors. Good gazpacho or summer soup, like a good wine, will linger on the palate in a pleasing way that transforms the initial taste experience.

Because Sungold tomatoes and summer corn are so sweet they need a savory balance to keep from becoming a ghastly ice cream topping. I tried to achieve that balance in this Sungold Tomato Soup with a big splash of vinegar and a scoop of chili-garlic sauce. It’s just salty, spicy, and pungent enough to keep those sweet, sweet Sungold tomatoes in line. GREG

Chilled Sungold Tomato and Corn Soup

Chilled Tomato and Corn Soup

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6-8Published

Chili-garlic sauce is slightly salty, spicy, and pungent; it can be found in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at some specialty foods stores and Asian markets.

Chilled Tomato and Corn Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 pints halved Sungold or similar sweet yellow cherry tomatoes (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • 5 ears raw corn (kernels only)
  • 2 yellow bell peppers (seeded and diced)
  • 1 large shallot (peeled and chopped, about ¼ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup chili-garlic sauce (see notes)
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • sour cream (optional)

Directions

Set aside separately about 1-cup each tomato and corn kernels to use as garnish.

Add remaining tomato, corn kernels, bell peppers, and shallots to a large bowl. Stir in salt and let sit for thirty minutes.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the tomato mixture to a high-speed blender along with chili-garlic sauce, vinegar, and lemon juice. Cover and pulse the machine several times. Once the mixture is uniformly chopped, turn the machine on and slowly pour in the olive oil. Blend until smooth.

Chill the soup at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To serve season with a little more salt if necessary, then ladle the cold soup into bowls. Garnish with reserved tomatoes, corn, and a drizzle of sour cream (if using).

Back to the Kitchen: Tamarind Roast Pork

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Roast Pork Tenderloin with Tamarind Onions

Sometimes you come across an ingredient that inspires you to get into the kitchen and make something delicious. A new (to you) ingredient means that the end result may be unlike anything you ever cooked before. For me, that’s the kind of motivation I need lately and it comes in the form of tamarind paste.

Gosh knows the inspiration came just in time. I’ve been traveling. It was a big trip and the details (and the doing) have taken a lot of my attention this summer. Add that to the caregiving responsibilities that seem to grow in scope every single day.

All this means that the cooking aspect of my poor little blog has been neglected. I’ve even considered putting it out to pasture. At least for a while…

Then tamarind paste came along, and I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen and create an original recipe. Just like I used to do when I first started this blog (more than 10 years ago).

It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with tamarind. I come across its particular sour notes quite often in many of the Asian and Latin restaurants I frequent. A sweet and sour tamarindo soft drink sits next to almost every taco my partner Ken orders.

I’ve even bought fresh tamarind in the market. It comes in sticky pods (like a giant vanilla bean) and the flesh is scraped out and the large seeds are discarded before you can use it. It’s a fun chore once in a while, but mostly it’s far too tedious for day-to-day cooking adventures.

Tamarind Paste

One the other hand, tamarind paste comes in a jar. It contains nothing but tamarind. No preservatives, no additives, no added sugar. How have I not known this all these years?

Tamarind paste can be found in a lot big supermarkets these days and keeps forever in the fridge. It’s a great investment in flavor, bringing its own fruity sweet-sour tang to anything from chutneys to curries to the glaze in this roast pork tenderloin.

Oh yeah, it’s also magical when mixed in with the sauteed red onions that accompany this dish. They’re so easy to make that it may change your allegiance to traditional fruit chutney for good. GREG

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Tamarind Onions

Tamarind and Onion Roast Pork Tenderloin

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2-3Published

Chili-garlic sauce is slightly salty, spicy, and pungent; it can be found in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at some specialty foods stores and Asian markets.

Tamarind and Onion Roast Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup tamarind paste
  • water (as needed)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup chile-garlic sauce (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (divided)
  • salt and black pepper (as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound, tied to ensure even cooking)
  • 3 tablespoon canola oil (divided)
  • 2 red onions (peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)

Directions

Make the marinade: Mix the tamarind paste with enough water to make a smooth syrupy liquid. Set aside.

Place half of the syrupy tamarind mixture in a large bowl, add honey, chili-garlic sauce, ground cardamom, ground cumin, ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the pork, rub the marinade into the meat, then cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Roast the pork: Preheat the oven 450 degrees F.

Meanwhile, make the tamarind onions: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt and black pepper to taste, and add remaining ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook stirring often until softened and beginning to lightly brown at the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and remaining tamarind mixture until the liquid begins to bubble. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on high heat. Lift the pork from its marinade, then sear on all sides for about four minutes. Transfer the meat to a roasting tray, spoon over some of the marinade and roast for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how well done you like your pork. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for five minutes before slicing.

Serve with the warm tamarind onions.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula

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Pelješac Peninsula

P.O.P. Pošip, Oysters & Pelješac. Pop go the tastebuds! I probably would have fallen in love with Pošip (pronounced POH-ship) whether I first encountered it at a dinner party in Los Angeles or in one of the wine tasting rooms we visited on Croatia’s Pelješac Peninsula. It’s a remarkably sippable wine, thirst-quenching, citrusy, and fragrant. It goes perfectly with summer.

But it didn’t happen that way.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

As it turns out the head-spinning moment of Pošip passion for me came last week as Ken and I sailed the Adriatic with friends. Boatlife is laid out at a leisurely pace. We often found ourselves lazily, blissfully, quietly sailing past islands with rolling hills and pocket-sized harbors keeping one eye on the shimmering sea and the other eye on the horizon. Both the same glorious shade of true blue.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia
Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

I didn’t think I could possibly need anything else. Then came the wine, from a grape variety with which I was only vaguely familiar. Not only did this wine have historic importance as an indigenous grape to the island of Korčula (it still grows on its own rootstock since it was planted long ago in sandy soils of Smokvica village). But it’s also versatile. If you like a dry white wine, you’ll almost certainly find a Pošip to love while you’re in Croatia. The Pošips we tasted varied from juicy, Sauvignon Blanc-style wines to more mineral Chablis-styles. Which got me thinking about oysters.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia
Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

The Oysters of the Pelješac Peninsula

When the time came to leave the boat and our friends behind in Split we rented a car and drove down to the Pelješac Peninsula. It’s an area known for shellfish. After a week of sailing to a different city every day we decided a little time on dry land was how we wanted to end our Croatian adventure.

So here we are, idly stopping into any winery or random konaba that strikes our fancy. We don’t have much of an agenda so it’s turned out that Pošip and oysters are giving our days all the structure we need.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

Like wine, oysters exhibit a discernible terroir. Maybe it’s because they’re still alive when you eat them but for me, no other food carries its provenance in quite the same way. This is what I’m thinking about as I sit here sipping wine and eating oysters steps from the 14th-century oyster bed where my meal was born.

Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia
Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

After all, there’s an expression used by chefs and wine lovers. “What grows together, goes together.” I try to remember that phrase when I travel because it means that the traditional foods from a particular region pair extremely well with the wines native to that same area. So it’s no wonder that Pošip shows itself in no place better than in a glass next to a plate of freshly shucked oysters from the Pelješac Peninsula. GREG

Ston, Croatia
Dingac Vineyard, Pelješac Peninsula
Pošip, Oysters & the Pelješac Peninsula aboard the Gulet Maske in Croatia

For more info see this video from Skoljka Ledinic, one of the oyster farms we visited.

Croatia All Aboard: Gulet Maske

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Dalmatia, Croatia

Live from the Gulet Maske: I’ve been in Croatia now for several days. Most of them spent in the Medieval city of Dubrovnik. It’s a magical place and has been for centuries. I suppose that’s how it found itself with a starring role in Game of Thrones. I’ve been to Dubrovnik before. In fact, I went way before HBO ever got here! So I can honestly comment on how much it’s changed in just a few years. Dubrovnik is one of those notable places, like Machu Picchu, whose popularity may be its undoing.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is heaving with visitors. From Italian school boys jumping from cliffs, to serious history buffs who explore the back alleys. It may no longer be anyone’s best-kept secret, but Dubrovnik is a Venetian Gothic marvel. A walled seaside town of orange-and-red-tiled roofs jutting out on a peninsula. A walk along its exterior wall will bring breathtaking views of the porticoes and loggias that rim marble-paved Renaissance squares and tiny alleys that, in true Venice style, seem to go nowhere. The whole impression of gleaming streets and artistically placed turrets make the whole city look like a sculpture.

Cliff jumping in Dubrovnik Croatia; Gulet Maske

Its nightlife has changed a lot since I was last here too. The summer crowds still flock to Dubrovnik, but they can now find restaurants serving quality Dalmatian fare, crowded coffee shops pouring world-class java, and serious cocktail bars shaking up inventive creations. We even spent a bit of a Dubrovnik evening swooning to the crooning of an Italian tenor whose mastery of Volare brought the crowd to dancing in the marble streets.

Dubrovnik’s reputation may precede itself, however, it’s not the sole reason for our trip. There are many Dubrovnik-style fortress cities scattered along this coast and throughout these islands. So we’re sailing off to explore the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia with Captain Marko and crew on the Gulet Maske.

Gulet Maske: Croatia 2019

It’s the first morning of an eight-day trip aboard the Croatian Gulet Maske. Our first night on the boat (if you can call a 27-meter two-masted sailing vessel a “boat”) was spent on the Island of Mljet just off the mainland of Croatia near Dubrovnik. The thrill of the experience was, of course, brand new and our first night’s meal turned out to be celebratory so I’m moving slowly on that first morning.

It’s not yet 6am and most of my companions have not awakened as I settle into the front of the boat with my tea and a book as dawn brightens the sky with a swirl of orange and magenta. The solitude is short-lived and soon I’m joined by a solitary tern dive-bombing for his breakfast. Other yachts bob nearby and I can see the neighboring sailors starting their day in much the same way I have chosen.

Suddenly my attention turns from the colors of the sky to the silver-streaked Adriatic. A sea turtle splashes to the surface just a few feet away. I swear he smiles and winks before submerging again, leaving me alone with my book.

Captain Marko tells me it’s rare to see a turtle here and I see he doubts my story. So I find myself looking up from the pages of my book every few words, playing a sort of I-Spy game hoping to see the friendly Cheloniidae again. Eventually, other creatures do appear, as does the sun and I give up on my book with no regrets. It’s not every day Ken and I go sailing off the coast of Croatia. And on this day we plan a bike ride on Mljet before sailing off to Korcula.

Korcula, Croatia

Dalmatian Islands

Our plan is to sail from Dubrovnik to Split. It’s an area known as the Dalmatian Coast and it’s spotted, like the dog, with small islands floating on the blue, sun-blasted Adriatic Sea. There are 1,244 of these islands and we plan to make port in 6 or 7 of them over the next week.

“Why Dalmatia?” you may ask. Part of the appeal is perfect weather combined with natural beauty. Dalmatia has blue skies and near constant sunshine beaming down on rolling, Aleppo pine-scented hillsides cobbled between olive groves, vineyards, and silvery-purple lavender fields. Not to mention excellent beaches that range from smooth sun-bleached stone to white sand.

But its also got history frozen in the stones of its many walled cities. The purpose of these walls may have been defensive, but the results are splendid. The sight of these stone citadels rising from the sea is one of the most memorable impressions of the Adriatic coast. Limestone and marble streets have been polished to gleaming over several centuries by millions upon millions of footsteps. Many of these cities with their graceful Renaissance churches bear the veneer of the Venetians who funded these port towns to assist in their old-world trade ambitions. It’s a mark of true beauty.

But Italy is not the only architectural influence among these islands. Some cities still carry the stamp of the carefully plotted Neoclassic civic centers in the Hapsburg tradition of stoic Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy.

In the hills of these islands, farmers built thick-walled stone houses in hopes of keeping out the chill as well as the constant stream of invaders. Today these farms, especially on Korčula, Hvar, and along the Pelješac Peninsula often house wineries, and/or traditional restaurants and taverns known as konoba.

When I was last here in 2006, less than a decade after a bloody civil war devastated much of Croatia, the Dalmatian coast had the lingering whiff of socialism and the no-frills vibe of the Yugoslav era. Now the islands of southern Croatia welcome me as one of the premier destinations in the Mediterranean region. They glimmer enough to attract the trendy, yet cling to their complicated history just enough to elicit blank stares or raised eyebrows from many travelers.

Just my kind of place. GREG

The video and some photos appear courtesy of Gulet Maske. Other photos may be attributed to my fellow crew members.

See my other travel posts.

Croatian Food and Wine Guide

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Croatian Food and Wine Guide

Does a Croatian Food and Wine Guide seem a bit of a random subject for this blog? Well, maybe it’s not so random. I’ll give you one guess why. Yep. I’m going to Croatia. I’ve been there before (in 2006) and I promised myself that I’d definitely, positively, absolutely go back.

But you know how those kinds of promises go. It’s a big world. It’s taken me quite some time to stay true to my word.

Ken and I (plus 4 other friends) have chartered a 27-meter sailboat to cruise around the Southern Dalmatian islands off the coast of Croatia. Which means we’ll be off-the-beaten-track discovering the villages, beaches, and everything else most tourists never get to see. It also means we’ll be eating in small family-owned tavernas (known as konoba) where traditional Croatian food and wine may be the only offering. So it’s best to know what to look for once I’m faced with those menus.

Sippity Sup Croatian Food and Wine

Croatian Food and Wine

Croatia has a rich diversity of culinary choices. It’s situated at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe and is influenced by both regions. In the north of Croatia, Istrian cuisine has graceful Northern Italian roots, but as you move inland you’ll find more robust menus, with Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish influences. Along the coast, where we’ll be, Croatia is known to have some of the finest seafood in the world.

Our itinerary follows a path through Southern Dalmatia from Dubrovnik up to Split so I will be concentrating here on the Croatian food and wine of this area.

Food…

Ken Eskenazi dining in Croatia for Sippity Sup
Sippity Sup (Greg Henry) eating oysters in Croatia

A lot has changed since I was last on the Dalmatian coast. As you may know, Game of Thrones has transformed the area into an incredibly popular destination. In the process, Dalmatia has garnered a well-deserved reputation for seafood. Adriatic specialties like squid, turbot, John Dory (called Saint Pierre in Croatia), zubatac (snapper) and škarpina (scorpionfish) are the fish to look for. However, Croatia also prides itself on the quality of its sardines and anchovies (I’ve read that Croatia has some of the best grilled sardines you will ever try).

However, shellfish lovers must pay a visit to the villages of Ston and Mali Ston on the Pelješac Peninsula which has been renowned for its oysters since Roman times. In fact, some of these oyster beds have been in constant harvest since then, resulting in a uniquely meaty oyster unlike any I’ve had.

The seafood dishes I’m looking forward to this trip include: squid ink risotto, steamed mussels (na buzara), and a bouillabaisse-style fish stew (brudet). The island of Hvar serves its own version of brudet called gregada. With a name like that, how can I not try it? Since we’re stopping on the island of Vis I hope we’ll enjoy the peaceful silence of this remote island while indulging in the traditional smoked fish soup. But first on my list is peka, an iconic dish of octopus cooked in a ceramic dish with a bell-like lid.

Aside from the seafood you’ll also find simply prepared vegetables. Swiss chard is especially popular I’ve read, and every restaurant seems to have some version of blitva – a homey side dish made from potatoes, Swiss chard, garlic, and local olive oil.

There’s plenty more to eat. Meals often start with a platter of paški sir (sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag) and thinly sliced pršut (cured ham). This platter might be accompanied by a strong spirit for sipping known as rakija. A term which covers all the local herb and/or fruit-derived liqueurs including plum brandy (šljivovica), pear brandy (vilijamovka), juniper-flavored spirit (pelinkovac), and a blueberry liqueur (borovnica). In the wine country where we’ll be sailing, we’ll probably be served travarica, the grape-based spirit infused with wild herbs.

The food list goes on. Soparnik – is a peasant’s pie made with Swiss chard and borek is a hand-pie that can be filled with almost anything. Dalmatia is also famous for a traditional beef stew called pašticada. The preparation sounds complicated but delicious. The meat is stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot, and bacon, then roasted with onions, prunes, and handfuls of herbs and spices. It’s traditionally served with gnocchi.

The island of Brač, (one of our stops) is known throughout the country for lamb. It’s usually roasted and is often served whole to large groups at special events. While on Brač I also hope to try vitalac – a hard-to-find dish made of lamb offal wrapped in caul and roasted on a spit set over an open fire. However, I’m worried that my fellow sailors won’t let me back on the boat if I subject them to lamb guts!

Stonska torta at an outdoor cafe in Mali Ston

There’s dessert too. Rožata, inspired by the Spanish crema Catalana, is probably the most popular sweet on the Adriatic. Or if you’re looking for something elegant how about the Austrian-inspired paradižet – fluffy white clouds of meringue floating in a custardy sea? I particularly remember enjoying a rustic cake called Stonska torta at an outdoor cafe in Mali Ston in 2006. It’s an unusual combination of pasta, sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts bound together with beaten eggs then wrapped in pastry. Some say it’s too strange a combination of savory and sweet, but Ken and I ate every bite and marveled at its structure. GREG

… and Wine

As is often the case, Croatian wines perfectly complement Croatian cuisine. Seafood is abundant, fresh and irresistible, so you might suppose that Croatian wines are mostly of the white variety. Well, you’re right! I’d like to fill you in on four whites and a not-to-be-missed red that will surely be filling us up while we’re island hopping.

First a few words about the history of wine in Croatia. It’s a long one. Viticulture was well established when the Ancient Greeks settled Dalmatia over 2,500 years ago. Several of the original indigenous varietals are still widely produced and wildly popular. We’ll be visiting, Vis, Hvar and Korčula and sampling (maybe too mild a word) Vugava, Bogdanuša, and Grk respectively.

Vugava is similar in taste to Viognier, the delicious Rhône varietal. In fact, it might even be one of Viognier’s offspring from about 2,000 years back. This lush, savory white is best with savory dishes like fish in a cream sauce or chicken.

Bogdanuša, on the other hand, is green-yellow in color and more acidic. This refreshing 12% alcohol wine would (will) pair nicely with oysters, grilled fish or octopus. Interestingly, its name means “godsend” and it is served in Croatia’s religious festivals. Looking forward to this religious experience!

Grk, pronounced “grk”, is a somewhat bitter, high-acid, aromatic white wine. While melon and herbal flavors predominate, you might even get a pine note on the palate. Not sure what food goes with pine, but pršut (prosciutto) sure works with melon!

This discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Croatia’s most famous wines, Pošip, and Plavac Mali. Both varietals have been popularized by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, the Croatian-born winemaker that produced the wine that won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Pošip can now be found throughout Dalmatia and the Pelješac peninsula. Crisp and dry, Pošip presents a balance of acid (citrus) and round mouthfeel (apple) with a hint of almond on the finish. Pairing? Just about anything. Plavac Mali is the most popular red wine in Croatia. Its rich, high alcohol, high tannin flavor profile delivers berries, cherries, spice, and chocolate shavings to complement your lamb dish when you need a break from seafood. KEN

Croatian wine tasting

As we have not left on the trip yet the Croatian Food and Wine photos are from our 2006 trip and the Croatian squid shot at the top comes via Shutterstock.

Sweet Potato Grits: Breaking all the Rules

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Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks

Do you have a strong opinion about grits? I mean aside from the very obvious fact that you can never have too much cheese in your grits. But what about other stuff? What else can you add to grits. How about sweet potato grits? Is that breaking any of your rules?

And there are rules. Lots of people have them. Paula Deen cooks hers in half-and-half and butter. That’s her rule. But another Southern chef, Amber Huffman, uses chicken stock. Chef Sarah Mastracco goes for equal parts of chicken stock and milk. The Joy of Cooking and Virginia Willis, a self-proclaimed grits evangelist and the author of an entire book on grits, prefer water alone. A lot of purists will tell that you should only cook grits in water with a little salt. But I use a 1-to-1 ratio of water and milk most times for both polenta and grits.

Oh, and today I’m adding sweet potatoes. Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks.

Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks

Grits are a Southern thing. Leeks are a French thing. And sweet potatoes, seem to be my thing lately. I honestly believe you can make the world a better place by eating more sweet potatoes. So why not combine three of my favorite things with some apples for a little tartness and crunch!

Maybe I’m breaking the rules, but I don’t think you’ll mind. GREG

Sweet Potato Grits
Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks

Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Published
Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes (a generous 1-pound total)
  • 1 ½ cup water (plus more for baking potatoes)
  • 1 3/4 cup whole milk (divided)
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese (about 1½ oz)
  • ½ cup grated Gouda Cheese (about 1½ oz)
  • ¼ cup cream cheese
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 2 large leeks (white and light green parts, halved lengthwise then sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces, and well rinsed)
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tart apples (such as granny smith, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch chunks)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (divided)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare the grits: Peel and halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise. Place them in a parchment-lined shallow baking dish along with about 1 tablespoon of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven until soft, about 30 minutes. Let the potatoes cool somewhat then mash them with a fork and add them to a blender along with ¼-cup milk. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring the remaining 1 ½-cup milk, 1 ½-cup water, and a big pinch or two of salt to a boil in a large pot with a lid set over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour in the grits in a slow steady stream, whisking the whole time. Continue to whisk often until the grits thicken, about 10-12 minutes. Add the pureed sweet potatoes, Cheddar, Gouda, cream cheese, and a couple of big pinches of salt. Whisk until well-combined. Turn the heat off and cover the pot.

Prepare the apples and leeks: Heat 2 tablespoon butter in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat until melted and foaming. Stir in the sliced leeks and season with salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks are wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the apple chunks along with about half of the thyme leaves. Cook stirring often until the apples have softened somewhat but are not mushy about 3 minutes.

To serve: Spoon the gits into a serving bowl, add the apple and leeks. Garnish with remaining thyme leaves and serve immediately.

Swordfish Pasta

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Swordfish Pasta with Shishitos and Corn

Swordfish Pasta with Shishito Peppers and Fresh Corn. The shishito and corn give this pasta a global flair but as any Italian will tell you, the combination of pasta and swordfish marks this dish with Sicilian roots.

Pasta is still one of my “go-to” meals. With a little practice you can make the sauce in the time it takes for you to bring the water to a boil – precise measurements hardly matter at all. I find I can be creative as long as I stick to a few tried and true cooking techniques that ensure beautiful results with pasta.

Swordfish Pasta

Good pasta relies on much more than slopping a terrific sauce on top of quality noodles. The key to success relies on knowing how to bring the sauce and the noodles together with a little of the pasta cooking liquid to create a finished pasta dish that transcends the sum of its parts.

Pasta 101

  • Prepare a large skillet to accept the cooked noodles. It should contain the basics of your sauce or perhaps the sauce in its entirety. At the very least it should contain a couple of tablespoons melted butter and/or olive oil. It just depends on the recipe. See the swordfish pasta recipe below for an example.
  • Boil 4 quarts of water over high heat and stir in enough kosher salt to make the water taste like the sea (about 1/4-cup).
  • Stir in the pasta and keep it moving around the pot for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Quickly bring the water back to a boil and then allow the pasta to cook until very al dente. The package directions will not be accurate. You want the pasta slightly undercooked. The exact amount of time will depend on your pasta. Use your best judgment. When the pasta is ready, use tongs or a spider to transfer it to the prepared skillet. Save the pasta water on the stove.
  • Once the pasta hits the skillet keep it moving by stirring and tossing with any other ingredients in the pan. Now is the time to add about a half cup of pasta water.
  • Bring the pasta and sauce mixture to a boil, adding more water as needed to keep the noodles in about 1/2-inch of silky sauce. Depending on the recipe this is also the time to add more ingredients as in the swordfish pasta recipe below.
  • Which brings us to the home stretch. As the sauce and noodles simmer continue to shake the pan until the sauce becomes creamy and emulsified, clinging to the noddles.
  • All that’s left is plating, garnishing, and serving.

GREG

Swordfish In Brine
corn and shishito
Swordfish Pasta with Shishito Peppers and Fresh Corn

Swordfish Pasta with Shishito Peppers and Corn

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Source Adapted from Food & Wine MagazinePublished
swordfish pasta with shishito peppers and corn

Ingredients

  • 5 quart cold water (divided)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • extra-virgin olive oil (as needed)
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound shishito peppers
  • 1 pound dried pasta (I chose conchiglie)
  • 2 ears raw corn (kernels only)
  • 3 tablespoon colatura (Italian fish sauce, may subsitute with Asian)
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)

Directions

Brine the swordfish: Brine the fish in a mixture of ⅓ cup kosher salt and 1-quart icy water. After about an hour remove the fish from the brine, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels, then place it in the refrigerator uncovered for at least two hours or up to overnight. This step is optional but recommended (once it has thoroughly air-dried you may cover it). Remove skin and bloodline from fish; cut fish into ½-inch cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil and garlic. (Let fish cubes stand at room temperature 20 minutes before cooking continuing.)

Prepare the shishito peppers: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high until smoking. Toss peppers with 2 tablespoons oil; working in 2 or 3 batches, cook until blistered on all sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Let cool 10 minutes. Cut peppers into ½-inch rings; discard stems. Using your hands, toss peppers to remove as many seeds as possible. Transfer peppers to a medium bowl, and toss with 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.

Boil the pasta: Bring remaining 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high. Stir in about ¼-cup kosher salt. Add pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost al dente, about 9 minutes (depending on the pasta).

Assemble the dish: Meanwhile, return the large cast-iron skillet to medium heat; add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add half of the fish pieces in a single layer; cook, stirring occasionally until lightly browned and cooked through 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside. Repeat with 2 tablespoons oil and remaining fish. Return all fish to the skillet, then using tongs or a spider move the barely cooked pasta to the skillet along with 2/3 cup pasta cooking water.

Finish the dish: Using a wide flat spoon, lift and stir pasta gently until liquid thickens, about 2 minutes, adding another ⅓ cup reserved cooking liquid if needed. Remove from heat; gently stir in cooked and sliced shishito peppers, corn kernels, colatura, parsley, lemon juice, ¼ cup oil, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss gently to coat. Transfer pasta to a serving dish; season with black pepper.

An Apricot Tart – You’re Welcome

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Apricot Tart

When you read this recipe you’ll see that this isn’t a tart in any traditional sense of the word. Still, I think you’ll want to thank me for it anyway. You can go ahead and thank me now or you can wait until you’ve tried it for yourself. However, one look at this Apricot Tart recipe and I think you’ll see its potential – so it might make sense to thank me now.

Because there’s no standard “crust” in this recipe I figured I could make it in either a tart pan or a cake pan. It might be great in a pie tin or a cast iron skillet too. Maybe better… I bet I could even flop it on its face by putting the fruit on the bottom and serving it “upside-down style”.

Like you, when I first looked this recipe from Guy Mirabella I thought, “how versatile”. It’s not unlike many one-pan cakes that utilize a little nut flour in the mix. Though this one has a grated apple in the batter which (in my mind) gave this cake its tart potential.

I thought all of these things upon reading the recipe, and so did you. So you’re welcome.

Apricot Tart

As I said I made this tart as a tart in a tart pan. I could have made it as a cake in a cake pan as we discussed earlier, but I chose to make it a tart.

I also chose apricots. Just so you know the only reason it’s an Apricot Tart is that we’re on the cusp of the stone fruit season. Later in the summer peaches, plums or nectarines would be just as delightful. Same goes for berries and of course figs. Of course figs.

You’re Welcome. GREG

Apricot Tart
Apricot Tart

Apricot Tart

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Adapted from Guy MirabellaPublished

Ingredients

  • 150 gram all-purpose flour
  • 150 gram granulated sugar
  • 35 gram ground almond meal (or other ground nut meal)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 granny smith apple (peeled and grated on the larges holes of a box grater)
  • 8 ripe but firm apricots (halved and piited)
  • demerara sugar (as garnish, optional)
  • light whipped, lightly sweetend whipped cream (for serving, optional)

Directions

Set oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 4¼ x 14-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom.

Place the first 8 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer (or vigorous hand beating) to beat the mixture together until it becomes pale and fluffy. Scrape and spread the mixture into the prepared tart pan. It should go almost all the way to the top but don’t overfill it, leave about ¼-inch of space to accommodate the apricots. Take extra care to get it into all the corners and crevices and then smooth the top. Snuggle in the apricot halves on top, cut side up. Sprinkle with demerara sugar (if using).

Bake in the oven until puffed and golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Use a cake tester to see for sure.

Cool the tart in the pan then carefully remove it before serving. Serve with whipped cream, if using).

Marinated Eggplant (Really)

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Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant

Fried eggplant. Baked eggplant. Marinated eggplant. Baba ganoush. Parmigiano. Moussaka. Ratatouille. I’ve always loved eggplant. I’ve also always considered eggplant a pain in the patootie. Who needs thin slices of salted eggplant lined up on paper towels across every flat surface in the kitchen? You see I’ve always read that eggplant MUST be salted before cooking to bring out its best qualities.

But does it really?

I know from experience that the idea of soaking dried beans overnight isn’t really a necessary step (necessarily). It’s a step I confidently skip plenty of times. Sure, I’ve heard the extra step makes the beans more sweet and creamy.

But does it really?

“Yeah but…” you might be thinking. Beans aren’t really bitter. Eggplant is bitter.

But is it really?

I recently read that the bitterness was bred out of eggplant decades ago so the need to draw out the juices before cooking is a moot point.

But is it really?

I don’t know. So I turned to some of my favorite experts.

Ada Boni, in her 1969 Italian Regional Cooking, salts for an hour, as does her successor queen of Italian food, Marcella Hazan. Nancy Silverton and Judy Rodgers use salt, but as more of a seasoning. Modern cooks like Yotam Ottolenghi and Rachel Roddy tend not to salt. Hmmm…

The LA Times’ recipe for Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant called for salting – so I salted. One taste proved that I must have done something right…

But still I wonder. Did I really? GREG

Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant

Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Los Angeles TimesPublished
Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant

Ingredients

  • 2 large Italian eggplants (about 2 3/4 lbs total)
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt (plus more as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)
  • 2 large shallots (peeled and thinly sliced)
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ⅓ cup sherry vinegar
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 lemon (juice only)
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Trim 1 inch off the top and bottom of each eggplant. Halve each eggplant crosswise, then stand each half on one end and cut each into 8 wedges, for 32 pieces total. Toss the wedges with 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl, then arrange them with one cut side down on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Drain for 2 to 4 hours. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.

Heat a heavy-bottomed large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half cup olive oil, then arrange half the eggplant with one cut side down until the bottoms are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add an additional quarter cup oil, flip the eggplant and fry until the other side is golden brown, about 6 minutes more. Transfer to a plate to cool and repeat with the remaining eggplant and an additional three-quarters cup olive oil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour any oil left in the pan into a bowl. Return 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet, or add more fresh oil to make 2 tablespoons. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika and sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add both kinds of vinegar, the thyme, and 2 tablespoons water. Swirl the liquids and scrape any browned bits from the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the browned eggplant and gently stir to coat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the eggplant softens but is not mushy, about 5 minutes. Cover and cook until the eggplant softens further and one-eighth inch of liquid remains in the skillet, about 5 minutes more. Taste and add more honey and salt, if desired.

Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely, at least 4 hours and up to 5 days.

When ready to serve, remove the eggplant from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Stir in the lemon juice, then garnish with the parsley and sesame seeds (if using).