Something red, something white, something blue

My friend Connie called on me recently for moral support and dessert ideas for a bridal shower she was about to host. The couple-to-be was to be married out of state on the Fourth of July.

Connie certainly knows how to throw a party. And this casual, flag-inspired luncheon was no exception.

The 24 guests enjoyed finger foods for lunch — a variety of wraps, veggie platter and chips.

Even the table arrangements were top-notch. They included cloth napkins and bright flowers in decorative pots for each guest to take home.

My contribution was this colorful parfait — a layer of strawberry puree' and gelatin, mascarpone and white chocolate, and then fresh blueberries in small mason jars. The recipe will be published in my Table Scraps column tomorrow.


Can you guess where?

Pulled from local waters, dipped in cornmeal batter and fried up quick to a crisp, golden brown, this delicious mullet is moist on the inside, sweet and tender.

Folks, this is the real deal — deep-fried mullet as it's served at...

Can you guess where?


Wanderlust = restaurant supply shopping

I just got back from Fox Restaurant Equipment and Supply in Sarasota.

It's the kind of store I like to go to every once in a while — if not for a specific item, then just for the browsing possibilities. It's like a whole other world. I've been there at least a half a dozen times, and I'm still smitten.

I needed to replace a salt shaker that has the black or white flip lid for keeping moisture out. I can't seem to find them anywhere anymore. But Fox has them!

Although Fox caters to the professional kitchen, there's plenty for the home cook.

You can also pick up plates, cups, bowls and the like in large quantities or by the piece. And if you're looking for a specialty tool for your kitchen, Fox undoubtedly has it or will gladly order it.

Poking around in the back room, you never know what you're going to find . It reminds me of a giant garage sale. I didn't take a photo of it, but it's worth the trip to visit. Steel shelving holds mass quantities of everything from used dishes, utensils and silverware to ovens, bar stools and glassware.

The store is open to the public and there's no fee to join. Just go in and shop away.

I just love this place!

1634 Northgate Blvd.
Sarasota, FL
(941) 358-6601


Salad dressing a kick, not just a sidekick

About six weeks ago, Hydro Harvest Farms owner John Lawson told me he planted lemon and lime basil seedlings. I visited the farm - and it was hotter than a pizza oven - Sunday afternoon to see how the plants had progressed.

Along with the lemon and lime basils, John also has Thai, Genovese and regular varieties. Some say Genovese is the favored variety for making pesto.

I took home several handfuls of the fragrant lemon and lime basil. I threw one handful of leaves into the blender, added a cup of honey, garlic clove, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and the juice of one lime. Voila! I cooled off with a honey-lime basil dressing, which I served over lettuce, chunks of canteloupe, blueberries and walnuts.

Served with a sirloin patty, this salad burst with flavor. My taste tester gave this dressing an "I-could-lick-my-plate-it's-so-good" review.

If you've got other ideas about lemon or lime basil, please chime in. I still have a handful left.

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


Bright new awning in Brandon

Gordon Food Service Marketplace (GFS) opened a new store on Brandon Boulevard this week, and I went to see how this restaurant- and catering supply-store stacks up.

It offers by-the-bushel, fresh produce. I found large, delicious-looking strawberries in four-pound containers for only $6.99. Now I consider that a decent price.

Individual and by-the-case produce quantities are available to GFS shoppers, as are meats, seafood, dairy and bakery items — a great option for large gatherings or big families.

The store also has a large variety of disposable trays that you don't usually find in regular stores. Unlike other stores that sell in bulk, GFS doesn't charge a membership fee.

730 East Brandon Blvd.
Brandon, FL
(813) 681-9871
Mon - Sat: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sun: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


What one person can do

When I retire, I hope to rent a place in Tuscany and pick grapes. So you might understand why my jaw dropped when I first heard about "retired" Anita De Biase.

For more than seven years, Anita has been a volunteer coordinator for T.H.O.R.N. Ministries — Thankfully Helping Others' Real Needs. When Anita's not in the makeshift kitchen behind her home, transporting food to three Tampa locations, cleaning up after the prep and deliveries, she's networking with other nonprofit organizations. She and a core group of 10 volunteers feed up to 500 homeless folks every Sunday.

Obviously Anita doesn't understand the word "retire." Seventy-one years young, she was born in Germany, and she knows what it's like to be hungry. Immediately after World War II, she had to beg for food.

Anita told me the things needed most are meats, produce, canned goods, plastic bags, gas cards, personal hygiene items and men's clothing. If you'd like to help out, call her at (813) 677-8058.


South Shore Gallery cooked this weekend — with herbs

On Sunday afternoon, I was part of the crowd that gathered at the South Shore Gallery in Apollo Beach to watch Chef Shari demonstrate planting container herbs. She also tossed out lots of good ideas for cooking with herbs.

Fresh-picked herbs can be a frugal cook's best friend; they'll keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Samples of her delicious watermelon salsa, fresh herb dip, herb gazpacho and mint chocolate chip ice-cream were available.

South Shore Gallery co-owner Beth Howard tasting some of Shari's lemongrass-ginger iced tea. Or was it wine?

While I was at the gallery, I had to browse and check out the exciting items that had been added since my last visit. As always I was mesmerized by the kitchen items. Love these handmade wooden utensils!

Visit Shari's blog, The Saucy Gourmet, at "http://chefshari.blogspot.com/".

And if you haven't stopped by the South Shore Gallery in awhile, Beth now has a "gift registry" where you can register for the things you like in the gallery. What an easy way for friends and family to shop! And not only that, you're supporting our local businesses at the same time.

Something different for breakfast

I've eaten and talked about Ybor Grille in Ruskin before. It's one of my favorite restaurants in the area. Usually I go at lunch time, but today I decided to try owner Bob Fernandez's breakfast menu. No surprise there. The food was outstanding.

I ordered the breakfast empanada...

Wrapped in a light, flaky crust, it was filled with ham, egg and cheese and perfect with a cup of coffee— a light, inexpensive and flavorful breakfast. Our server was on her toes keeping my coffee cup filled.

My breakfast partner ordered Mama's Omelet, which was filled with ham, chorizo, onions, peppers, potatoes and a side of salsa. She couldn't believe how light and fluffy the omelet was and noted it had the perfect amount of meat and veggies.

Other items on the menu? French toast stuffed with cream cheese, fresh fruit and a raspberry compote, poached eggs on a wedge of Cuban toast with ham, Ybor potatoes and a hollandaise sauce. Or the Southshore omelet sounded wonderful: fresh shrimp with asparagus and Hollandaise sauce.

It sounds pricey, but it's not!

Ybor Grille also serves fresh baked muffins and guava-cream cheese turnovers.

YBor Grille
Hours ...
Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Head south on I-75 to the Ruskin exit. Go to U.S. 41 and turn right to Shell Point Road.
Turn right, and you'll see it a block up on the right.


"Candied-Coated Popcorn, Peanuts, and a Prize..."

I was at Wal-Mart yesterday, on a mission to find small Mason jars. Wandering the store I passed by a huge Cracker Jack display. The vintage-style package caught my eye and reminded me of the boxes I used to get when I was a kid. The yellowed paper made the boxes look like they could have been sitting in storage for the past 30 years.
I don't think there's any snack more all-American than good old Cracker Jack. According to legend and crackerjack.com, the first popcorn, caramel and peanut confection was first introduced in 1893.

Was this a new campaign?

No, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay told me. She said the nostalgic boxes have always been sold at Cracker Barrel restaurants, and she really didn't have a clue - at least one that she willing to share - as to why the company is now selling them at Wal-Mart.

Truthfully, who cares?
All I really cared about was that it tasted just as good I remember, and it had a prize.

Oh, and I found those canning jars.


Riverviews first Hookah Cafe

This afternoon, I visited the Hookah Cafe. Open two months ago, owners Jehad and Suhad Husein could not have been more friendly. Suhad, who does most of the cooking, likes to add artistic flair to everything she prepares.

Both cafe and restaurant, the Hookah Cafe offers coffee, smoothies, ice cream, gyros, falafel, chicken or beef shawarma, Greek salads, grape leafs, fried kibbe and more.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I've been on an organic coffee kick lately. But can you blame me for choosing this non-organic Frappe Mocha? I was thirsty, craving chocolate, and it was splendid!

I asked what these S-shaped cookies are called, and I nailed it. They're called S cookies.

I sampled the date-filled cookies, which were buttery, crunchy and spiced with a hint of cinnamon.

Suhad prepares her specialty, Lamb Shanks, on Friday and Saturday evenings. She marinates the shanks first with her own blend of Arabic spices and serves them with roasted vegetables and basmati rice. I can't wait to try them!

The two-foot high hookahs, or hubbly bubblies as they're sometimes called, are popular with the hip crowd. The shisha menu has at least 30 different, flavored tobaccos.

11226 Boyette Rd.
Riverview, FL
(813) 741-1801


Cool beans. Free coffee!

I've had several people write to me asking where can they find Teeccino herbal and organic coffee?

I wrote about it in today's Table Scraps newspaper column, which can be found on tbo.com

You can order the coffee alternative online at 
www.teeccino.com, subscribe to the Teeccino Healthy Tips newsletter and get a FREE sample.

My favorite? So far, I like the Original 75% Organic the best. It's citrusy, with a bright body; I really loved it. Still making my way through the sampler pack of 10, I've saved the best for last: Mocha, Chocolate Mint and Hazelnut.


"Step away from the day..."

At The Tea Cup Tea Room in Brandon, you can sip a cup of your favorite blend of tea and nibble on homemade scones draped in raspberry jam, lemon curd or Key lime curd.

That's what my friend Shari and I did today, but we met for lunch — sans the steeping pot of tea. I'll be going back to try the English Garden High Tea, and when I do I'll make the required reservation.

Front door porch area is very inviting.

Just inside the entryway is a small gift shop area, perfect for browsing.

The Tea Cup Tea Room, which opened about a year ago in a quaint house, has three dining rooms. We were seated here in the cozy Shabby Chic room. The larger dining area is more "man-friendly."

Still on my "healthy living" diet, I ordered the LOW CARB Spinach and Herb Honey Ham Garden Wrap, with a side salad.

Shari ordered the The Secret Garden DuJour, a combination of a Chicken Artichoke Brie Soup, garden salad and petite sandwich. It also came with a "Tea Cup-Tea-nie" dessert and iced tea.

There are about 35 varieties of teas to choose from, in loose leaf form. Soups, sandwiches, salads and daily dessert selections are on the menu, too.

It's a nice place to linger for a spell, reflecting on all the reasons you don't want to go back to work.

1107 Lithia Pinecrest Rd.
Brandon, FL
(813) 654-6543
Tues. - Fri., 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Sat., 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.