Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I swear I am not a lucky person – I don’t have a lucky number, I don’t win at cards and I never buy lottery tickets.  I did, however, found myself in the right place at the right time one Friday evening which led to an invitation to escape the rainy Dutch summer.  Our friend Caroline had rented a holiday home in Majorca, Spain and as our luck would have it there was room for two more.  After a couple of glasses of Dutch courage (a.k.a. wine), we had plane tickets to fly in on the following Thursday evening and return home on Sunday.  More luck – our companions for the weekend were a group of food and wine loving Brits and a gluten free Kiwi!

Penny, one of the guests and long time friend of the hostess, had spent a great deal of time in Spain in her youth. So much so that she fell in love with their wines and now imports them into Britain.  Her love of Spanish wine extends to Spanish food and she shared a number of traditional nibbles with us.  On Friday afternoon, after a few seconds of debate we decided to eat in and cook rather than walk into the quaint town of Pollensa.  Caroline’s holiday home had a built-in wood fire grill which inspired a spanish grill theme.



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When C and I travel alone, I feel much too guilty to go running off for the day to indulge in a cooking lesson.   However, having a girlfriend along on vacation provides an excellent excuse!   On our recent trip to Provence with Rod, Sharron and Jada, I managed to find a one day class near Aix en Provence  run out of a hotel restaurant, Le Mas du Luberon.   We had spent two glorious nights celebrating Sharron’s birthday at Crillon le Brave surrounded by a beautiful view, sunny skies, wine and glorious meals.  Our next adventure would be a cooking class with an honest to goodness French chef!  Our class was to start at 9 am so we planned our departure for 8 am and shockingly I totally underestimated the drive.  What was in my mind a 45 minutes drive was truly an 1.5 hour drive!   Enroute we called ahead to advise of our dilemma and they thankfully said they would wait for us.  Gentile!


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We recently spent 10 glorious days in the Provence region of France cycling, eating and drinking wine with good friends from Canada, Sharron and Rod. There are many traditional foods in the region and one of the most famous is a fish stew, bouillabaisse.  In planning food adventures for our the trip Sharron and I agreed that trying this well-known dish was high on our list.

I slogged through articles in the New York Times and several blogs to uncover the most revered honest bouillabaisse was available not down at the old port in Marseilles but at Chez FonFon high up on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  Sharron readily agreed so I reserved our spot and we dragged C along on our adventure.

Upon our arrival (by bus) we thankfully followed a another group of tourists into an enclosed walkway which led into a secret harbor.  Chez FonFon was perched overlooking the local quaint boats and numerous other restaurants lining the bay.  Arriving at 8 pm meant we were eating well before the restaurant would fill up so we were seated quickly and the event began.


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Stinky –  old – smelly – fish.    Fish for us is usually lighter fare for weeknight meals which are meant combat all the naughty weekend eating.   I shop once a week on Thursdays for groceries which had also included fish, which is an North American standard and is not the norm for Europeans.   I am still not very knowledgeable when it comes cooking fish so there is much to learn.   Flat or round, flakey or meaty, white or red fish, shellfish, crustaceans  – the variety is endless.

I like buying fresh rather than frozen fish but I tend not cook it the day I buy it.   Fish usually hits the menu on Monday or Tuesday so when I open the package to start cooking,  I am hit with the pungent odor of not so fresh fish.   Worse yet – the not so fresh smell permeates the house while I cook dinner,  greeting C as he comes in the door.  Less than appetizing.

I decided to stop this ridiculous habit this week and planned fish for the menu on Friday night.  As I was off work on Friday, I headed on my bike to de Wallen (Amsterdam’s Red Light district) to procure a very fresh meaty white fish for grilling at the Vishandel (Fishmonger) Fa. Dirk Tel.


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Our final stop on our trip to Greece was the island of Santorini – simply paradise. The island was created when a volcano collapsed into itself 3500 years ago leaving the world’s largest caldera. One side of the island features dramatic cliffs where the volcano fell into the sea while the land on the WEST (check) gently rolls towards the water. The views are incredible along the caldera where the towns of Fira and “Ouisldfkjsdk” hang precariously off the cliff face. Giorgos, a fellow Basic Cuisine student at Cordon Bleu, owns an Ouzeri in the town of Fira.

An Ouzeri is a taverna/restaurant which offers numerous ouzo’s which the patrons sample hoping to discern differences in quality and taste. I had contacted Giorgos when we booked our trip to Greece for advice on where to eat – who better to ask than a local foodie! Of course I was anxious to connect and visit his establishment so once we were on the island we booked a reservation. Although it was his night off, Giorgos came to the restaurant and welcomed us enthusiastically.

Once we were seated, he made suggestions on the must try dishes and went to the kitchen to have the chef execute the order. I was surprised to learn that he is not the chef at the restaurant but rather the owner. We talked for some time on why he had embarked on the Basic Cuisine. He reasoned that as the owner he wanted to take the quality of the food to the next level but felt it was important that he be the one trained to provide the vision. Chefs often move on so to invest in another’s education was not necessarily a good use of his money. As well, the main tourism season is over in Santorini around the end of September leaving him free to travel during the winter months. which was another opportunity to explore different cuisines and cooking techniques not used in Greek cooking.

Our first course of baked sesame coated chloro goat cheese with cherry compote and ouzo meatballs arrived and he left us to sample the dishes. Both were divine!   The tangy cheese and earthysesame seeds playing nicely against the sweet cherry compote however, it was the meatballs in an creamy sauce flavoured with ouzo that stole my heart or my tastebuds. I plied Girgios for the recipe which is a traditional Greek taverna special.

The sauce is made by simply deglazing the pan where the meatballs are cooked with ouzo then adding cream and S&P to finish. He did confide that he has been playing the use of French stocks in the such recipes to add a more layered flavour to the sauce. I so enjoyed the delicate hint of liquorice within the cream that I vowed to recreate it at home. For our main course C enjoyed the moussakka (a new favourite) while I opted for a braised v eal dish. I will honestly tell you it was my favourite meal in Greece, not only because the food was so good but also because it is obvious that Giorgos is very enthusiastic about experimenting with different cooking methods to elevate traditional Greek food.

I’ve been perfecting the ouzo sauce over the last several weeks and think it pairs well with meatballs, made of ground chicken or pork and also a lightly seasoned baked chicken breast. A quick salad of the freshest summer tomatoes, cucumbers, a generous crumble of feta cheese , a smattering of kalamalta olives , chopped parsley and oregano all tossed with olive oil. Mmmmm….summer. Link to my recipe – Ouzo Meatballs.

Giorgos –  Thanks again for a fantastic meal and I hope to see you at Intermediate Cuisine this November!

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We’ve learned travelling at Easter can be quite difficult in Christian countries as many people go home for the holiday to be  with family and tourist sites are generally closed over the 4 day celebration.  We had decided to travel to Greece this year to enjoy some history, sun and good Mediterranean food.    In preparing for our trip to Greece I contacted a few friends from Basic Cuisine at the Cordon Bleu for advice on where to eat in Athens and traditional foods served at Easter.    Armed with a list of restaurants and some research on Easter Traditions we arrived in Athens on the eve of Good Friday.

The celebration of Easter in Greece is truly a reflection of the Christian  Orthodox faith where the Grecians observe lent rabidly denying themselves all manners of pleasures over the 6 week lent period until the Easter Vigil on Saturday.    There were numerous food traditions linked to the celebration of Easter that I was both excited and apprehensive to experience in Greece.   

On Friday we joined a group tour of the main sites in Athens and finished off the afternoon with a the most succulent black olives, a delicious Greek salad, and grilled kebabs in the tourist district in Plaka.   We then strolled the area enjoying the late afternoon sun, the kitschy shops and the buzz of the crowds in the streets.  It all made for a relaxed mood and a most pleasant afternoon. 

On Saturday, C and I strolled to the Psiri district in Athens to visit the Naxos Lamb and Cheese market which has been a tradition for 100 years.  Producers from the Island of Naxos, in the Cyclades Islands, set up a 4 day market where they sell the “city” folk their home grown and mostly organic products.   At Easter, they bring specifically Kefalotiri cheese, made from the milk of a male lamb and refresh whole lamb.  I was very keen to sample the cheese as the large oval rinds looked fresh and rustic.

 All the vendors were working hard selling cheese to the locals but one woman was happy to engage me and broker a deal.  My Greek “oma” spoke no English so she enlisted the help of one of the local young woman, dragging her over from across the street, to help answer all of my questions on source, taste.  Sampling the cheese I found the texture reminiscent of manchego and the taste of the cheese was salty  and nutty in flavour.  It is typically served along side fresh tomatoes and bread I was told, so I was confident we could make a little snack of it while we were on the islands. (more…)

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Have you heard about the concept of a travelling dinner party?  Generally neighbours agree to have dinner together and each course is hosted at a different house.  Rather a fun idea that alleviates anyone from all the cooking!

I had invited my lovely friend Diana and her new husband Roland over for dinner (finally since we’ve known each other a year!) and proposed several dates.  They have a 3-year-old and were longing for an adult evening before their new baby arrives in May so they were keen and contacted a sitter.  Much to our dismay, we both learned that the sitter’s social life was much more active than ours, so none of the dates worked.  Merd!  Rather than be dissuaded to share our long overdue dinner together, I offered to port everything over and cook the meal at her house!  She was game to try it – so our date was on.  

Cooking in another persons kitchen is a challenge as you don’t know where anything is, how the appliances work or whether you have all the ingredients you need.  As such, I decided it was best that everything was made in advance and was as simple as possible.  I had been threatening to make confit du canard since my return from Paris and I needed a premade dish easily transported so I decided this was the moment!

A simple little French menu, roast tomatoes with olivade (recipe below), confit du canard on top of potato slices in a mustard cream sauce, cheese (of course) and dessert.  I really wanted to make the lovely hazelnut meringues form Ottolenghi’s first book but C wrinkled his nose at the suggestion as there was no chocolate.   I considered chocolate mousse but as Diana is pregnant raw egg whites were not on.  After perusing a few recipes, and noting Diana’s current strawberry addiction confessed on facebook, I decided to make an almond cake with a strawberry rhubarb compote.  Delicious! (more…)

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