Tea for two and a half

My daughter Leslie and her husband, Ben, were here for the holidays from Hawaii. Their visit was particularly meaningful because she is six months pregnant with their first child.

And I couldn't be happier that I'm going to be a grandma for the second time. P. S. It's a girl.

During Leslie's visit, I made reservations at the Camellia Rose Tea Room in Plant City. We were both excited, since it was our first visit there, and the 30-minute drive was worth it.

A glorious gift shop greeted us as we entered the historic downtown building.

We were seated at the Ruby Jean Redman table. Tables are all named after past Strawberry Festival Queens. Ruby's picture from her 1953 reign was close by hung on the wall.

We ordered Camellia's Afternoon Tea. I chose the White Champagne with Raspberry, and Leslie chose the Sweetheart Black Chai, just two of the 70-or-so loose teas brewed at Camellia Rose.

First served was a small ramekin of beef tenderloin topped with a swirl of mashed potatoes. It was wonderful.

The fairyland, three-tier serving tray came next. On the bottom plate, we discovered freshly baked, apple-raisin scones served with southern-style Devon cream; the middle plate featured curry chicken-salad tea sandwiches edged with finely chopped pecans, a dainty phyllo cup filled with a bite of Gruyere cheese and cranberries and a heart-shaped cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. The top dish held a piece of red-velvet cake topped with cream cheese frosting and little mice with chocolate-kiss heads and chocolate-covered cherry bodies, stems for the tails and two slivered almonds for ears.

The food was delicious and the teas satisfying, but the greatest pleasure of Camellia's was the atmosphere. It's a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the moment, especially with your daughter or close friends - and sip slowly.

Camellia Rose Tea Room & Gifts
120 North Collins Street
Plant City, FL


Makin' a list of gifts for the kitchen-minded?

My favorite gifts to get and to give are things for the kitchen, many of which last a lifetime. I've used a measuring cup set my high school friend Penny bought me as a wedding gift 33 years ago. It's one of my most prized kitchen tools.

Southern Grace Gifts & Home Accessories in Ruskin is a favorite place for picking out practical, unique and affordable presents for the holidays, or any host or hostess.

Something as simple as a set of salt and pepper shakers can generate so much excitement.

Southern Grace
301 US Highway 41 South
Ruskin, FL
(813) 641-0004


For a barrel of taste, roll out this barrel!

While visiting my family last week over Thanksgiving, I had my first sampling of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. The inviting aroma of this seasonal brew and its creamy, smooth taste — with an intense taste of chocolate, charred oak, vanilla, caramel and smoke — immediately won me over. I absolutely loved it!

My stout was from the 2008 batch, which sported a white label. I noticed from Goose Island's Web site that the label on the 2009 batch is black.

You've got to try this beer. It's almost like cognac, in that it has to be sipped. The Web site claims it goes well with cigars.
I don't do cigars, but I can tell you it went great with an insanely decadent piece of chocolate torte, during a chilly Georgia evening in front of a blazing fireplace. Cheers!


Drunken sweet potatoes

The most memorable Thanksgiving dish I recall from childhood wasn't my mom's turkey, fabulous oyster stuffing, candied yams or pumpkin pie. It was her festive relish tray.

The patchwork of black olives, spiced cranberries, sweet gherkin pickles, homemade pickled watermelon rind and pickled herring, my dad's personal favorite, was a feast unto itself. Those one-bite delights offered a crisp and tangy contrast between nibbles of mashed potatoes and green bean casserole that accompanied the bird. The relish tray made a lasting impression, and to this day provides me with comfort and familiarity of carrying forward a family tradition.

But when my sister called me to make menu arrangements this year, she assured me the relish tray was covered. Would I please make my brandied sweet potatoes? she asked, a dish I have made every Thanksgiving and Christmas for at least 23 years.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

Brandied Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes
2/3 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. seedless raisins
1/4 c. cognac

Wash the sweet potatoes, but do not peel them. Boil in water to cover until barely soft, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. Slice into a greased casserole. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring the brown sugar, water, butter and raisins to a boil. Add the cognac and pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, basting several times with the syrup in the casserole.

Serves four.


Gather, all ye plant and herb lovers

This weekend is the Anniversary Festival at Colorfield Farms.

There will be educational demonstrations on container gardening, low volume irrigation, hydroponics and my favorites — culinary classes and tastings!

Owner Anne Pidgeon will demonstrate how to use herbs in salad dressings and making pesto and meat sauces at noon tomorrow.

The weekend (Nov. 21 and 22) festivities begin at 10 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., Come on by.

Colorfield Frams, Inc.
8221 State Road 674
Wimauma, FL
(813) 833-2545


For the love of buttah!

I make a continental breakfast for the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce's monthly board meeting, each time preparing something different to keep things fresh.

On my agenda this month, I baked banana nut muffins and cranberry muffins. To keep them both company, I made cranberry-orange butter, which appealed to me because its easy-peasy, and I love its unusual pink color and tart sweetness. Hey. It's gotta be good. It's buttah!

The recipe comes from my friend Shari of The Saucy Gourmet, who made it to go along with cranberry scones.

Just think of all the other possibilities...


1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange peel, grated

In a small food processor or small bowl, cream the butter. Pulse or stir in the cranberries, sugar and orange peel. Blend well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.


Congratulations Sue Romeo!

Thanks to all of you that stopped by with a recipe, to say hi, or to help tether my tent down at the Ruskin Seafood Festival.

I'm happy to announce the winner of the catered dinner for two. Her name was drawn from the many who submitted favorite seafood recipes: Sue Romeo, owner of Canadian Meds South in Apollo Beach.

Sue calls her recipe MSR [my special recipe] Shrimp, which she serves with thin spaghetti and a big salad.

Sue, I'll be in touch.

My Special Recipe Shrimp

(Sue Romeo's recipe)

1 pound raw or cooked shrimp

1 pound box thin spaghetti, cooked until tender

1- 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

15 - 20 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chicken bouillon

Garlic powder to taste

Hot pepper flakes for seasoning

Grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add the oil and garlic. Saute' for two minutes. Add the shrimp. Saute' for three minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, bouillon, olives, and garlic powder. Continue to saute' for two minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the shrimp mixture. Season with hot pepper flakes. Garnish with cheese. Serves six.


Giving big for the "Big Give"

Hey, everyone. There's still time to donate food items or bake a dessert for the annual South Shore "Big Give," a free, hot meal for the homeless and people in need who would otherwise not have a Thanksgiving dinner. They are still in need of at least 10 - 15 more turkeys.

Last year, more than 500 folks were fed.

This is a all-volunteer event. South Bay Hospital donates turkeys, and The Resort & Club at Little Harbor and Beanie Tichy of Beanie's Family Sports Grill cooks them. Dozens of others greet people, serve food or help with parking and clean up. It's a wonderful community effort.

For further information or to make a monetary or pantry donation, call Beth Howard at the South Shore Gallery at (813) 645-0483.


Having my fish cake and eating it too

Kaffir leaves aren't always easy to come by, so when I saw the better-order-me-now foliage in a list of produce available at My Mother's Garden online market, I bought six.

The loose, glossy leaves kept well in a baggie I stored in the fridge for several days. If you need to keep them longer, they can also be frozen for quite a long time.

Take care to shred the leaves finely when used, because they can be a little sturdy.

I decided to make My Mother's Gardens easy recipe for Spicy Fish Cakes, which called for five kaffir leaves. I used two, and they added plenty of flavor. Five might be somewhat overpowering.

Because they cook quickly, the fish cakes are a terrific weeknight food, and the kaffir leaves are a perfect partner with their unmistakable lemony-lime taste and aroma.

If you find yourself wanting a different flavor experience, get some kaffir leaves and try the recipe.


Say hello again to fried green tomatoes

I just learned from Julie Cockerham, owner of The Fish House in Ruskin, that classic Southern fried green tomatoes will be back on the menu, starting this week. Huge news for me. They're a favorite of mine.

The firm fruit wheels are fried up golden and crispy and served with two choices of dipping sauce — creamy ranch or a zesty, Southwest chipotle dressing.

Last month, I wrote an article about The Fish House for "In the Field Magazine," which can be read at the following link: http://issuu.com/inthefield/docs/hill_oct.09finalconverted. See page 46.

The Fish House
South side of Shell Point Road West, 1.4 miles west of U.S. 41 in Ruskin.
(813) 641-9451
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Acropolis Greek Taverna, opa indeed!

Greek food is always a treat. Their food culture is based on doing things generously, hospitably and tastefully. This is exactly what I found when I dined recently at the Acropolis Greek Taverna in Riverview. I wrote about the restaurant in this weeks Table Scraps newspaper column.

The place was overflowing with everything Greek, from servers dancing...

to flurries of napkins tossed in the air...

to even a few broken plates. Opa!

And the food was delicious. My dining partner and I immediately dove into the incredibly good Saganaki cheese. Served with pita, the dish is brought to the table, where the cheese is then ignited.

Not-to-be-overlooked is the Falafel, hummus, eggplant dip and fried kibbe'. This appetizer platter, which had them all offered a sampling of the classics. Come hungry!

Next came very tender chicken breasts sauteed in a lemon sauce with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and topped with crumbled cheese.

For dessert, layers of chocolate cheesecake and cake, topped with chocolate chips and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was crazy delicious.

6108 Winthrop Town Center Avenue
Riverview, FL
(813) 654-2277


Here fishy, fishy, fishy... recipe.

OK, it's clearly Ruskin Seafood Festival weekend — just look in my backyard. The annual event celebrates every ocean creature imaginable.

My earlier post told you a little bit about it, but here's the deal I didn't tell you about. Bring me your favorite seafood recipe. You'll find me at the Table Scraps booth — the one that looks a little like Island Paradise meets Gilligan's Island. Any adult who brings me a favorite recipe gets a chance to win dinner for two at your home catered by almost-famous moi. You'll also receive a seabuck to use in the festival's fabulous food court.

If you're any kind of seafood lover, I strongly urge you to make a day of it! There's lots to see and more to eat!

21st annual Ruskin Seafood Festival
Nov. 7-8
E. G. Simmons Park
2401 19th Ave. NW, Ruskin

For additional infromation, call the Ruskin chamber at (813) 645-3808 or visit http://www.ruskinseafoodfestival.org/.


What ever happened to peanut butter kisses?

I just ran across a fun Web site called Old Time Candy, candy you ate as a kid, which listed some of the candies I remember buying at Reed's Drug Store when my family lived in Golden Valley, Minnesota in the late 1960s. Mom and Dad wouldn't allow us to chew gum or buy candy, so we sometimes saved our lunch money to go buy it, and then sneak the contraband into the house.

Two of my all-time favorites were on the site's list of discontinued goodies: Bub's Daddy bubble gum ropes and Bonomo's Turkish Taffy. I especially loved the banana-flavored version.

Drawing by Sherry Thurner

The reason I went candy surfing on the Internet, though, was to find out what happened to a Halloween favorite of mine. You know, the taffy-like chewy things with peanut butter in the middle. They were wrapped in either black or orange wax paper. I wasn't able to find them anywhere this Halloween.

I wonder if they were part of the products that were recalled from a Georgia peanut factory last January?


Goin' fishing... for recipes

This week, I've been gearing up for the annual Ruskin Seafood Festival. Scrounging for "fishy" items to decorate my booth, I've ransacked friends and neighbors tackle boxes, garages and kitchen cabinets.

This will be the first time "Table Scraps" will be an exhibitor at the Nov. 7 and 8 event.

At the Table Scraps booth, I'll be "fishing for recipes." So bring your favorite seafood recipe or just stop by to say hi. If you do share a recipe, you could win dinner for two, catered by almost-famous me!

This is a big event for seafood lovers - think lobster, oysters, clams, grouper, mullet, shrimp and lots of other tasty ocean cuisine.

There is always plenty for everyone to eat and explore, so come on out and have some fun.

Be sure to stop by and say hi!

21st Annual Ruskin Seafood Festival
Nov. 7-8
E. G. Simmons Park, Ruskin.

Call the chamber at (813) 645-3808 or visit www.ruskinchamber.org.


Food bloggers meet

I had a wonderful and exciting Friday! I finally met fellow food blogger Tammy from over at Flip Flop Foodie. Our halfway meeting point was Della's Delectables in Brandon.

And what would you expect when food bloggers meet for lunch? We talked a lot about food, the world of blogging and a little about ourselves. Or was it the other way around?

She is so easy to talk with, so comfortable to be with. Tams has a fun blog, and she certainly knows about food.

Tams recently returned from a trip to Turkey. She brought back a mega stash of saffron and was kind enough share a nice portion of it with me. You'll be hearing more about that saffron in the future.

One thing, though, how did we neglect to try those homemade moon pies at Della's?


Death by chocolate, anyone?

I've been reading the book "Baking Boot Camp."

The words boot camp probably conjure up grit, sweat, and a bunch of drill sergeants barking orders. Certainly no cakewalk...

In the book, the demanding activities are more along the lines of whisking, piping and pulling hot pans in and out of the oven.

It's a diary of sorts of one woman's experience attending a five-day baking and pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York.

The last part of the book includes recipes mentioned by the author, including quick breads, cookies, pies, yeasted breads and other desserts.

When I read these Mudslide Cookies are "the ultimate chocolate cookies," I knew I had to make them!

Fudgy, dense and moist, these cookies give added meaning to death by chocolate. No one wants to go, but there really isn't any sweeter way.


Makes 24 cookies
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
1-1/3 cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Melt the butter with the unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates in a metal bowl over barely simmering water and reserve. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In a separate small bowl, mix the instant coffee and water, add the vanilla, and reserve.

Beat the eggs, sugar, and coffee mixture with a whip attachment on high speed until light and thick, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the speed and add the chocolate mixture. Blend on medium speed until evenly mixed, 1 to 2 minutes. On low speed, add the dry ingredients until just blended, 1 minute. If necessary, refrigerate the dough until firm enough to hold its shape 15 to 30 minutes.

Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop the dough onto the sheet pans lined with parchment. Bake cookies until they are cracked on top but still appear moist, about 14 minutes. Be sure not to overbake. Cool slightly on sheet pans and transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Piles of pumpkins

Growing up in Minnesota, my favorite season was Fall. I loved jumping in piles of raked leaves, going to the State Fair, eating caramel apples... and the crisp cool temperatures.

Fall in Florida these days is almost nonexistent, with our seemingly endless heat waves. It just doesn't seem like it's October!

This afternoon, I stopped by Hydro Harvest Farms in Ruskin to see what's pickin' and to say hello to owner John Lawson. He has pumpkins... lots and lots of pumpkins. Halloween is in the air!

I also found orient express eggplant, Nevada summer crisp lettuce, basil, tarragon and stevia, among other things, ready for the picking.

If you're in the area on Oct. 24 from noon to 3 p.m., stop by for the farm's 4th Annual Boo Fest. Wear your costume for special treats. In addition, there will be races and games, face painting, pumpkin painting and decorating contest.

Hydro Harvest Farms
1101 Shell Point Road East
Ruskin, FL (813) 645-6574


Move over muffin!

I'm lucky to live close to a well-stocked, community library that has an inspiring selection of cookbooks.

I often bring home an armful, flip through them, and then usually make a recipe or two, or three.

Recently, I checked out "Breakfasts & Brunches" by The Culinary Institute of America. I loved the book and the recipes in it so much that I ordered a copy from Amazon.com.

I'm providing you with its recipe for Ham & Cheddar Scones, one of my favorites from the book so far. Delicate, tender and crumbly, the scones are studded with diced ham and cheese, flecked with scallions. They were nothing like the doorstops some scones can be.

The cheese gets bubbly and oozes to the outside. I also like that I can freeze the dough overnight, and bake the scones the next morning.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup medium-diced ham
1/2 cup medium-diced cheddar cheese
1/2 cup scallions
2 cups heavy cream

Cut two, 10-inch circles of parchment paper. Use one piece to line a 10-inch round cake pan. Reserve the second piece.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add the ham, cheese and scallions, then toss together with the dry ingredients until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

Add the cream and stir by hand, just until the batter is evenly moistened.

Place the dough in the lined cake pan and press into an even layer. Cover the dough with the second parchment paper circle. Freeze the dough until very firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it lightly with cooking spray or lining it with parchment paper.

Thaw the dough for five minutes at room temperarture; turn it out of the cake pan onto a cutting board. Cut the dough into 10 equal wedges and place the individual wedges on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake the scones until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Serve scones warm or at room temperature. They should be eaten the same day they are made or frozen for up to four weeks.


Order up!

I did some volunteer work yesterday morning by helping out at a local charity fundraiser. Although we didn't exactly have the throngs of guests we expected to wolf down pancakes and bacon, we certainly had fun.

You haven't lived until you've had Len Gamble's plate-sized, spongy and golden brown pancakes, which are slightly crispy at the edges.

Sous chef, server and dishwasher Toni Huggins with a pan of flapjacks

The "crowd" was tough at 7 a.m. Oh, well. On to the next event!