Cooking with Myra: Vacation spots turn up great finds, dining

By Myra Starkey
Feb. 18, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 17, 2014 at 8:18 p.m.

Basil panna cotta topped with strawberry consomme

Basil panna cotta topped with strawberry consomme

We just returned from a weeklong trip to Miami. Taylor and I were both tired from working at the clinic, and we needed a break. I had heard a lot about that area in regards to the food, art, architecture and tropical beauty.

Florida has many great beaches, so that automatically makes it one of my favorite states. We've just never taken a vacation to the very southern part. Our friends, Bob and Susan, who are water lovers like myself, have always told us how neat Key West is, so we added that to our agenda.

I am not very fond of cold weather. A trip to the mountains to ski, although beautiful, would not be my first choice. I looked up the temperature for Miami and the Keys in mid-winter, and it reported lows of about 65 and highs of almost 80. That sounded like my sort of place.

I was busy with other things, and Taylor seemed more than willing to set up all the details of the trip. He was being a little secretive in his planning, but I thought he just wanted to handle it himself. I did throw in a few restaurant suggestions for places I had seen in the food magazines.

The time for the trip finally arrived in late January. I figured it would be too cold to swim, but Taylor told me to pack a swimsuit just in case we happened to find a good beach. We arrived early Sunday morning at George Bush Intercontinental Airport for the flight to Miami.

We were checking our bags, and the guy at the ticket counter was telling us that he would send our bags straight through to Nassau, Bahamas. I tried to correct him to tell him we were only going to Miami. Taylor gave me a big smile and told me then that for a surprise he had booked the first part of the trip to the Bahamas. I was so excited as visions of white sandy beaches and clear blue water popped into my head.

After a layover in the Miami airport, we took the short flight over to Nassau and stepped off the plane into the warm winter breezes of this island nation. Less than an hour later, we checked into a small hotel on the quiet end of town.

It was a quaint 10-room inn that was situated on top off a ridge. The broad porches afforded great views of the clear blue waters down below. I was so happy to be there.

We walked down the beachside road that led into town and eventually caught a shuttle bus once we realized how far away we were from any place to eat. The driver dropped us off at an area where we were told there was a bunch of restaurants that served fresh Bahamian food.

There were actually about 10 places all along the edge of a harbor. We figured the fish had to be fresh since it could have been caught just out the back door. The owner of one establishment directed us to an outdoor table in front, assuring us of the quality of his fare.

He even offered to throw in a complimentary Bahama Mama drink for each of us. I guessed this must be something that appealed to the average tourists, which would have been exactly what we looked like.

We had to wait about 30 minutes for our food, which gave us time to enjoy the warm sun and puffy clouds floating by. It was late afternoon, and we watched the locals, who were also sitting and visiting. Most of the locals are black and speak excellent English with a British accent. Nassau was settled by the English in the late 1600s and the islands were a British colony until they became independent in 1973. They still drive on the wrong side of the road.

Taylor had grilled grouper, and I had grilled shrimp, and they were both spicy and steaming hot with sides of the traditional mixed Caribbean vegetables and rice and peas. It was delicious. We finished and continued our trek down to the old city.

Downtown Nassau is a busy place with many old buildings including their Parliament since this is the capital city. There is also a large cruise ship terminal and many places for tourists to shop. There were lots of big hotels and tourists everywhere. It seemed a little too crowded, so we caught a bus back to the calmer end of the island, where our hotel was.

The next morning after breakfast, we hitched a ride down to the beach area. The sand was clean and white and the water was only slightly cold and swimming pool clear and blue. It just made me smile.

We walked down to a fairly deserted area and found nice shells and sea biscuits, which look like inflated sand dollars. The only thing I love more than being at a beautiful beach is to find beautiful seashells. We snorkeled around and looked at colorful fish and it was just about a perfect day except for when I jammed my foot on a rock and broke my left big toe. But I was not about to let a little thing like that ruin my day.

After two days of sun and rest, snorkeling and hunting shells, we headed to Miami. Since I was in charge of food, we arrived early to dine at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink for supper. Michael Schwartz is a popular chef in this coastal paradise, and his food is magnificent.

Taylor and I ordered kimchi and pork belly, a salad of apples and pistachios with apricot vinaigrette and a beautifully light cobia fish dish. Our waiter encouraged dessert, and I selected a basil panna cotta. The flavor of the basil burst through the cream and was enhanced by the strawberry reduction.

His cookbook is filled with delicious small and large plate recipe mirroring his popular image of down-to-earth cooking. The pastry chef, Hedy Goldsmith, boasts an equally delicious cookbook, "Baking Out Loud."

Many of the entree and dessert recipes are found in these two great finds. In all of Miami, Key West and the Bahamas, I came home with only these two treasures tucked into my carry-on bag. More about my eating vacation next week.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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