Monday, June 30, 2014

France: Brittany - Summer Solstice and A Weekend of Food

     I am not typically a rule breaker...except when I am driving.   I always seem to be going over the speed limit; my picture has been snapped in numerous countries as I cruise down the road.  I haven't driven in the States in almost over two years and I think I may have a problem when I eventually return.
     I view recipes as rules for cooking.  I am not one of those intuitive cooks.  I cannot come up with recipes and ideas at the spur of the moment.  I make a pretty mean paella and have used the same recipe for years...never deviating from it.  So perhaps, I am not the most creative cook but my system works for me.  However, this past weekend, I stretched the out of my comfort zone and made some tasty, tasty food.
     It started on Friday night with something I didn't cook.  I brought back seafood from our trip to Brittany.  The typical Breton seafood platter must contain at least five different types of shellfish.  I managed to bring home four: briny shrimp, langoustines, bulots and an absolutely huge crab.  All were cooked and after the six hour drive, it made for the perfect, low key meal. 

    But, what to do with all of the leftovers?  There were a ton of shells and a lot of extra meat that could not go to waste.  So, I dumped the shells into the crockpot, added water, an onion, a carrot and a few spices and let it cook away all night long on low.  The house didn't smell particularly great but after a night of simmering and a few more additional hours the next morning, I had a very flavorful stock.  But, what to do with it?  I made a very simple seafood risotto.  I sautéed some onions in a combination of butter and olive oil and then added the rice.  I added the broth, one cup at a time until the rice was ready.  Then I added back the reserved shellfish meat and some parmesan.  Meal number two was delicious!  

     But, what to do with all of the leftovers?  With the threat of rain on Sunday, we decided to have a lazy Sunday brunch.  Very easily, I formed the leftover risotto into three patties, sautéed them in butter until they were crisp and then served them with a runny poached egg on the top!  I managed to get three dishes from my one seafood platter - and rarely had to consult a recipe.  What a daredevil I am!!!

     Here is my first batch of peas.  They are so tasty that I find myself just eating them straight from the bowl.  I thought about making a pea risotto with them but after having seafood risotto, that seemed a bit of overkill.  However, could I make an appetizer to go with the risotto consisting of my glorious sweet little peas?  You betcha!  I did follow a recipe on this one and the result was super.  

     I fanned some thinly cut prosciutto around a small plate.  In the center, I placed sliced burrata cheese (a kind of creamy mozzarella).  I blanched the peas for a quick two minutes, cooled them slightly under running cold water and added them to a bowl of dressing consisting of mint, salt and pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.  The peas were then spooned over the cheese and topped with shaved parmesan and a few pea shoots.  Not too shabby!

     But, what to do with the leftovers?  Why not another appetizer to accompany my Sunday brunch?  Taking the pea mixture, I added minced shallots, a tangy goat cheese and a bit more olive oil.  I served it on pieces of toasted bread (also a leftover) and voila!  Spring Pea Crostini.  Oops, no pictures!

     It was the end of a marvelous week.  We celebrated Summer Solstice on the coast of Brittany - hanging out on the cliffs looking out at the sea, having a picnic, playing music and taking goofy family photos.  We had Sunday lunch at our favorite restaurant, rediscovered beaches, flew kites, stayed up late, napped on the beach and played boules.  We ended the week back at home in Belgium, well rested, well fed and just...well.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ramblings and Arugula Pesto

     Little is going on and a lot is going ended last Friday and we are either enjoying or hating the first week off...depends on who you speak to and what time of the day it is.  Dear Daughter is realizing that while it is great going to an International School, during the holidays, they all go back to their home countries!  This week, instead of going into one story, here are bits and pieces of what is going on right now.

Last weekend at the Wachenheim Wine Festival in Germany

     My cats are registered noncombatants.  I am convinced after yesterday that they somehow have some sort of secret society and have decided that other than flies or other pesky insects, they will abstain from the normal household cat duties.  Several occurrences over the past several years have led me to that possibility but given what happened last night, I am now convinced - they are noncombatants.  "What happened," you ask.  During the late afternoon, I had the back door open in order to catch the breeze.  The cats were enjoying entering and exiting at their leisure.  I was doing some research in the office when I heard this chirping noise.  I thought perhaps a bird had entered the house but that seemed unlikely.  Around the same time, our youngest cat planted herself in the doorway of the odd place for her.  Later that evening, we heard an explicative from Dear Husband and..."How did that rodent get into the house?"  At the word rodent, I, without hesitation,  went to the nearest chair and stood on it.  How was I supposed to know the size of this creature?  Dear Husband and Dear Daughter caught it and promptly took it out to the pasture and let the little field mouse go its merry way.  A mouse...seriously?  Isn't that my cats' job?

I bet that mouse could scamper right past her right now...

     Here is a secret... I am not a big fan of soccer (or football as they call it here).  While these players are phenomenal athletes, the sport just doesn't seem that exciting to me.  We never watch matches at home nor have we been to one.  But in the last week, we have become FIFA CRAZY!!!  Today, Dear Daughter purchased her fourth jersey so she is truly international.  She has been known over the last week, to change her jersey several times a day.  In the mornings, it may be Croatia or Germany while in the afternoon, it could be Brazil or Belgium.  We have our own family pool going and we at least watch the first match each evening.  Surprisingly, it is providing a lot of family fun and I wonder what we will do once it is all over.  Dear Daughter is already hoping that she wins and can add her winnings to what she already won during the NFL regular season!

     She now stays up later than her parents.  We have reached that stage in life.  Given that school is out and the fact that the second FIFA match each night does not end until close to midnight, she has been staying up  while we go to bed.  I am not sure how to feel about this.

Football Mania!

      I hate peas and yet I am growing them this year.  I was known for sneaking them under furniture during dinner time in order to not have to eat them.  Now, the peas are paying me back.  They are my best crop thus far this summer.  Since I am growing them, they taste different to me.  I pull a pod off the vine, shell it and gobble up the small, sweet peas - no cooking necessary.  What do you think about that, Dad?

     We also have so much arugula that I no longer have to buy lettuce at the store.  We have been having arugula salads for lunch almost every day.  I love the peppery taste and it pairs very well with so many things:  blue cheese, prosciutto, pears...lovely salads.  Knowing that we would be gone a week, I harvested the crop yesterday and turned all those glorious leaves into arugula pesto - same process as making regular basil pesto but substituting arugula for basil.  One batch I made with pine nuts and the other with walnuts.  Dear Husband liked the pine nut version better.  Dear Daughter liked the walnut version better.  After sampling it, she asked me if we had any fresh bread.  A few minutes later, she was slathering it all over a slice.  That is the best compliment in the world.

So doesn't need pasta

     Today, she and I suffered from Chocolate Shock.  We headed up to the outskirts of Brussels for a chocolate adventure.  Neuhaus, one of Belgium's famous chocolate producers, has an outlet store at its corporate headquarters.  While you can purchase the same items that are sold in the retail stores for the same price, the real bargain is purchasing one kilo boxes of chocolate.  Did I mention that each flavor sold is available to sample?  We were only there about 15 minutes and probably sampled most of what was available.  We walked out the door with THREE boxes of chocolate...over six pounds of three varieties and a stomach ache.  Chocolate for everyone!

Arugula Pesto

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Montenegro: Our Weekend in Kotor

     I hate to admit it but the best trip, thus far this year, was Dear Husband's doing.  Earlier this year, we learned that RyanAir (our local discount airlines) was offering flights to the capital of Montenegro from an airport only 30 minutes from our house.  He was so adamant that we had to visit this country that he researched apartments and found us a place to stay.  Perhaps he should plan more trips because this one was totally AWESOME!
     Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia, means The Black Mountains.  It only became an independent country in 2006 when a whopping 55% of the population voted for independence.  It is a tiny country sandwiched between Albania to the south and Croatia to the north.  Our destination was Kotor Bay and during our 90 minute drive from the airport, we saw not only how spectacular this country was but also how it is fighting to shed its prior communist existence.  Throughout our trip, we saw the most beautiful sights standing right next to unbelievable poverty.  However, I think that we would all agree that the people are eager to welcome you into their country.  They are friendly, they work hard and they are very proud of their heritage.
From the top of the Kotor Fortress...1,400 steps up!
     At the end of Kotor Bay lies the fortified city of Kotor.  At one time, a 4.5km wall surrounded not only the city but the fortress located high above the city.  Immediately, you can understand its former strategic position.  From the fortress high above the town, you could easily see ships making way through the bay.  The historic city is completely encapsulated within the walls.  It is unbelievably pristine...the cobblestone streets look like marble and they glisten each morning after they have been washed.  Stores open early and close late.  It was interesting to take the narrow alleyways only to walk into another wonderful square dotted with restaurants and perhaps a church or museum. 

Rambling through the streets of Kotor

One of the many churches in Kotor

     We dined on local seafood...and squid was the meal of the trip.  We had a wonderful apartment and yet, for the first time, we were not tempted to cook a meal.  We were having too much fun dining outside at casual eateries on plates of fried sardines or squid stuffed with shrimp.  We drank the local wine as the winery is State owned and you found the bottles not only at stores in the village but in every restaurant.
Dear Daughter at the Adriatic
     We took a side trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia which was about 2 hours by car.  Dear Husband and I had tried to visit this town years ago but the war prevented us.  We booked a two hour walking tour of the town and it was truly one of the best experiences of this entire adventure in Europe.  Our guide spoke a lot about the war but what came across most, was his devotion to his city.  We had a wonderful time strolling through the streets trying to avoid the cruise ship tourists.  We found a bar located outside the walls which looked out over the Adriatic and enjoyed a pre-lunch drink.  The clear blue skies and the mesmerizing sea could drain away every ounce of a matter of seconds.  We lunched outside; sampling oysters from the Adriatic and comparing them to oysters from Brittany.  We tried a Croatian white wine and found it similar to our beloved Alsatian Riesling.  We laughed at the border crossing which seemed to take forever even though there were only 7 cars ahead of us.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

We could have stayed at this bar forever!

     It definitely was an adventure...a beautiful, memory inspiring one.  The scenery was spectacular and a bit untamed.  We could already see development moving in and while we wish the best for this tiny country, we hope that it can maintain its peaceful beauty.
Church at Perast - built on a manmade island

     In Dubrovnik, we came across an outdoor food market.  We picked up a small bag of the local treats:  dried figs mixed with candied orange rinds and almonds.  The orange rinds came out to be the clear favorite, so much so that we are making them now at home.  Super easy and really versatile.  Recipe will follow in a few days along with perhaps a recipe for stuffed baby squid...which was TO DIE FOR!
Kotor Bay

     It is warm today in Belgium.  After spending the morning doing outside chores, I hope to dine outside tonight...easy grilled flank steak and sweet potato fries.  I have to be up early tomorrow to go to a large flea market in Waterloo (yes, the sight of the famous battle).  Who knows what treasures I might find.
Squid stuffed with Shrimp...delicious