Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Churrasqueira Martins: Traditional Portuguese Cuisine

Famous for their fabulous fresh grilled fish and succulent Barbecue Chicken, Churrasqueira Martins is a neighbourhood gem, tucked away in a quiet plaza near Rogers and Old Weston Road in Toronto. Owned and operated by Carlos and Samantha Martins since 1992, Martins imports their fish twice a week from Portugal which arrives fresh on ice, never frozen, and quite possibly serves the best grilled fish and seafood in the city. Simply prepared, cooked to perfection and flavoured with love, the Grilled Squid, C
lams and succulent Grilled Tiger Shrimp are truly outstanding. Relaxed and informal with a fabulous menu of classic Portuguese dishes and extensive wine list including their own brand of red and white wines, Martins sensational cuisine is only matched by their warm, friendly and gracious service. Enjoying a long leisurely lunch on a cold winter afternoon, we had a lovely chat with owner Carlos Martins who travels back to Portugal every February to buy wine for his restaurant and take some quality time to visit family and enjoy the warmth of his country's beautiful Porto region. A gesture of his warm hospitality, he graciously sent over two glasses of Ginja, a traditional Portuguese sweet cherry liqueur, at the end of our meal. Obrigado.

The warm and inviting interior of Martins

Spiced Portuguese black olives

Portuguese corn bread, whole wheat and warm garlic toasts

Martins house white wine, a 2016 Mingora Terras D'Uva Alentejano

Lovely, light and dry with light fruity notes and light straw colour, Martins house wines are a popular choice for their grilled seafood

Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato | Clams in White Wine and Cilantro Butter

Lula Grelhada | Grilled Squid with Parsley Infused Olive Oil

Gambas Grelhada | Grilled Tiger Shrimp

Feijoada, a traditional Portuguese bean stew with pork, chourica sausage and cabbage

Portuguese Carrot Rice | Arroz de Cenouras

Ginja, a traditional Portuguese sweet cherry liqueur

Monday, January 22, 2018

Homemade Tzatziki: A Taste of the Aegean

Inspired by the outstanding homemade Tzatziki that we enjoyed in Tarpon Springs a few weeks ago, with its perfect ratio of coarsely grated cucumber, thick Greek yogurt, fresh squeezed lemon juice and generous lashings of pungent pressed garlic, I relished the promise of perfecting my own tzatziki recipe. And it was, as my stepson says, "easy-peasey lemon squeezy". Excellent at the first 'go', allowing the tatziki to chill for a few hours or even overnight, makes the flavours more robust, however we did manage to finish off a whole bowl straight away with some lovely Grilled Mahi Mahi, for a true taste of the Aegean in the midst of Toronto's coldest winter on record. 

Homemade Tzatziki
Makes1 cup 

1/2 English cucumber, seeded and grated with skin on
1 cup plain strained Greek yogurt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, pressed 
1/4 tsp Maldon salt

Slice the cucumber in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Grate the remaining cucumber, spread it out over a large tea towel and wrap it tight, leaving it at least 30 minutes until the grated cucumber is quite dry. 

In the meantime, peel and finely crush the garlic, then combine with the oil in a small bowl and allow to marinate for 10-15 minutes. Combine the cucumber with the garlic mixture, then stir through the yoghurt until evenly distributed along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Serve with warm pita or alongside a Greek salad and grilled meats. Leftover tzatziki keeps well, chilled, for about 4 days.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Charles' Florida Key Lime Pie

My dear friend Charles makes the finest Key Lime Pie. He came across his culinary ability honestly. His mother was a great cook, and Charles with a prodigious sweet tooth, mastered desserts. Born in the American south, his homemade Pralines, Southern Fried Chicken and Pink Elephants are equally irresistible as his Florida Key Lime Pie. Served after a long leisurely lunch in Naples a few weeks ago, he obliged me with his secret recipe. Named after the small Key limes that are naturalized throughout the Florida Keys, I was surprised when his secret ingredient was Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice, which Charles swears gives his pies more pizzazz. At 91, who are we to argue with that?

Charles' Florida Key Lime Pie

Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Nellie & Joe's 

2 300ml cans of sweetened condensed milk

6 egg yolks - whites not used but could make a meringue top if desired
1 cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice
2 fresh limes, zest only

Thick Pie Crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter 
1/3 cup sugar

In a large bowl, combine the pie crust ingredients thoroughly for a deep dish 9-inch pie plate or springform pan. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Press the crumbs firmly over the bottom and up sides of the pie plate, then chill for an hour before filling. For the filling, combine the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice, zest and blend until smooth. Pour the filling into the graham cracker pie crust and bake at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating. Just before serving, top with freshly whipped cream or meringue, and garnish with sliced lime.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Florida Maritime Museum in Historic Cortez Village

The Spanish conquistadors came to Sarasota seeking fortune, fame, and adventure. They were awed by the beauty of Florida’s Gulf Coast but were more interested in finding wealth than creating a permanent settlement. If Hernando Cortez were to see his namesake fishing village nestled on a picturesque point in Manatee County across from Anna Maria Island, he might be astounded to discover that the wealth of the area was not in gold, but in fish. Nestled in a 1912 Schoolhouse on almost 4 acres of land in the historic fishing village of Cortez, The Florida Maritime Museum preserves and shares Florida’s rich Maritime heritage. Founded on the importance of the local commercial fishing industry, the museum includes a research library with a variety of books, plans, logs, diaries, letters, records and archival material about maritime subjects, with special emphasis on Florida’s Gulf Coast, in addition to exhibits of boat models, tools, instruments, historic photographs and a large collection of shells from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Founded in the 1880s, the historic commercial fishing village of Cortez is on the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting its importance as one of the few remaining working commercial fishing communities in Florida. Although commercial fishing and agriculture where once the pillars of the local economy, urbanization, habitat loss, and competition with recreational fishing interests led to contraction of the fishing industry. The last fish house still working is A.P. Bell, founded in 1940 by Aaron Bell, a noted area rogue who realized that he did better on his own than with partners. The house is now run by Karen Bell. Although she left Cortez to go to college and because her father wanted her to have an easier life, she missed the area and felt a responsibility to the community. In 1986 she returned and eventually bought the Star Fish Market, turning it into a thriving waterfront restaurant, and is also the day-to-day manager of the A.P. Bell Fish House. In the winter season A.P. Bell employs 50 people and services at least 100 boats, and ships fish around the globe. Karen is very conscious that Cortez is a “working” village. She participates with FISH, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, an organization dedicated to preserving, maintaining, and promoting public awareness and protection for the traditional maritime culture and facilities in Cortez and elsewhere, and so the unique spirit of Cortez continues. 

Propeller from the 1892 steamboat Mistletoe' which began its run in the late 1800s and was Sarasota’s first reliable and regular connection to cities and counties nearby

Interior of the Florida Maritime Museum in the historic village of Cortez

Beautiful shell collected by fishermen, who treasured the beauty as well as the bounty of the sea

Small replica of the 'Glenda Fay' fishing trawler with local sponges

Diorama of Fogarty Boatworks based in Bradenton Florida 

Nestled in a 1912 Schoolhouse on almost 4 acres of land in the historic fishing village of Cortez, the Florida Maritime Museum preserves and shares Florida’s rich Maritime heritage

Collection of marine code flags

Museum library collection of rare navigation books and old photographs

Paddle wheel steamboats were the primary means of transportation in Florida, 
particularly along the lakes and rivers found in the Panhandle near Tallahassee

Net fishing used to be common sight in Cortez until a net ban in 1994 prohibited their use

Outdoor waterfall and pond beside the museum

Secret garden window into the private courtyard of the museum

Built by local landscape designer Alan Garner in the 1980’s, the fountain was recently restored

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bridge Tender Inn: Dockside Tiki Bar on the Beach

Located on historic Bridge Street on Anna Maria Island, the Bridge Tender Inn captures what island life is all about with friendly people, fresh seafood, cold drinks and beautiful views overlooking beautiful Sarasota Bay. Established in 1991, the Bridge Tender Inn and Dockside Bar is a favourite among locals and 'snowbirds' alike. Known for its 'old Florida' charm, casual beachside fare and popular evening entertainment, the waterfront tiki bar features lighter fare including fresh local seafood, a great selection of appetizers, tasty salads, array of sandwiches, and selection of creative cocktails such as Scottie's Afternoon Delight, Shan's Rum Runner and Beckie's Bikini Babe. Arrive by boat or walk up from Bradenton Beach, and enjoy Florida seafood on the sandy shore of sunny Sarasota Bay. 

Bridge Tender dock decorated with Christmas lights

Yeungling beer from America's oldest brewery

Smoked Mahi Mahi fish paté with crackers, pickles and crudités

Basket of lightly fried Basa Bites served with tartar sauce and fresh lemon

Classic Grilled Reuben Sandwich made with thin y sliced corned beef, sauerkraut and melted swiss cheese with thousand island dressing, served on rye bread

Grilled Reuben
Serves 4

2 tbsp butter 
8 slices rye bread 
8 slices deli sliced corned beef 
8 slices Swiss cheese 
1 cup sauerkraut, drained 
1/2 cup Thousand Island dressing

Preheat a large skillet or griddle on medium heat. Lightly butter one side of bread slices, and spread the non-buttered sides with Thousand Island dressing. On 4 bread slices, layer a slice Swiss cheese, two slices of corned beef, 1/4 cup of sauerkraut and a second slice of Swiss cheese. Top with the remaining bread slices, buttered sides out. Grill the sandwiches until both sides are golden brown, about 15 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Coquina Beach Sunday Market: Music, Art & Food

Located on the southern end of Anna Maria Island on Florida's Gulf Coast and lined with tall pines, Coquina Beach is home to a popular outdoor Sunday market featuring local artists, fresh produce, arts and crafts, jewelry, pottery, quirky collectibles and live entertainment by local musicians, the Anna Maria Island String Band. One of the best discoveries we made were the vibrant fish and beachscape paintings of local Bradenton artist Mike Parrott who uses reclaimed boards as the 'canvas' for his work. A lovely friendly fellow, Mike was a joy to talk to about his art and made our visit to Coquina Market a more special visit.

Looking through Australian Pines which line Coquina Beach, home to a popular Sunday Market

Nautilus Soap Company sells hand-crafted, detergent and preservative-free bath soaps

 Sharlee's Front Porch Cakes, a local home-based baker from Bradenton specializes in 
custom cake designs and cupcakes

Local Bradenton artist Mike Parrott paints local sea life and beach scenes on reclaimed pallet board

More of Mike's colourful paintings

Mike Parrott crab painting we purchased from him at the market 

Anna Maria Island String Band plays each Sunday at the Coquina Beach Market

'She Paints on Glass' stall at the market features painted wine glasses, vases and mason jars

Fresh local produce 

Plump local beets

Sandy white Coquina Beach