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Archive for October, 2012

Happy Halloween?

Happy Halloween everyone! Hurricane Sandy is sure putting a damper on things in the eastern seaboard, and even though we’re quite far from the ocean, we are getting deluged with rain and high winds. Not pretty at all. I particularly feel bad for the kiddies tonight who will likely have to brave the elements with winter coats over their carefully considered and crafted costumes. But I heard through my FB friends that Halloween has been postponed to Saturday in some US cities! What do you think about that?

Our building had their annual Halloween hall crawl, but I had to change my plans for the phantom of the opera costume for fear of melting my face off with the mask, so I went as Dracula instead. It turned out the Kim and I were one of the few who dressed up, talk about feeling rare, oh well. Free booze and food helped us get over that pretty quickly!

20121031-043258.jpg

20121031-043421.jpgKim was a gypsy whore

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Sandy wreaked havoc in our neighbourhood and toppled a very large evergreen tree knocking out power including our house (although not every house has a blackout!). I just finished filling the freezer with left overs and sale meats, so this turn of events is not appreciated. I am hoping I won’t have to toss the lot. Fortunately when the tree fell over, it fell into the street and nothing was damaged other than the power lines. I already know of two people who’ve had car damage from fallen limbs (tree, not human).

No, it wasn’t the alien arrow that toppled the tree, it was a giant belch from Sandy.

Since JT has to work on Halloween night (he traded with a guy who has two young children) I decided not to doll the house up; instead I was going to go over to Kim’s (boss, neighbour, friend) with a bottle of vino and we’ll hand out candy together and get silly. But instead I’ll be cleaning out the fridge and freezer. And since I love this time of year so much, I thought I’d run around the hood and takes some pics of some of the decorated homes. Hope you enjoy them.

There goes the neighbourhood

I had no idea we had a graveyard for neighbours

John, you’d better avert your eyes, those are big mother spiders!

My friend’s daughter had a Halloween party last Sunday so I baked up a batch of the monster fingers which I found on Angie’s blog last year. This year I was able to fashion them a bit better and I had the great idea of dipping the cut ends into the jam to make them look even grosser! Thanks Angie, these will never get old on this side of the planet!

Would you like some coffee with your decomposing fingers?

Would you care for a finger cookie?


Word

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Happy Halloween, tomorrow! What will you be for this momentous occasion? JT and I will share a costume, one that he thought up! I need mine for work on Tuesday and he needs it for Wednesday! Good timing! We’re Phantom of the Opera! Well, I hope you all have a great time Trick or Treating tomorrow night!
As you know during our cooking class in Lyon, we made this absolutely delightful Claffoutis with a wonderful Caramel Sauce. Chef Villard was kind enough to provide the recipes for the dishes we made together in his kitchen and we recreated the entire dinner for my friend Barb and her hubby (Profiteroles and Ponytails).

It’s a delicious dessert. I snapped this pic earlier in the day because of the light.

Pear and Milk Chocolate Clafoutis with Caramel Sauce

Makes 6 Claffoutis about 10cm or 4 inches in diametre

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 80 g granulated sugar
  • 40 g all purposes unbleached white flour
  • 100 mL Carnation Evaporated Milk (or cream)
  • 150 mL milk (I used skim)
  • 2 ripe bosc pears
  • 50 g Lindt milk chocolate, chopped
  • 5 g butter
  • 5 g sugar

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175° C (350° F).
  2. Butter the pans and dust with sugar until sides and bottom are totally coated.
  3. In a bowl, mix the sugar and flour well. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour the cream in and then the milk. Add the lightly beaten whole eggs and yolk and mix delicately until all of the flour and sugar are combined.
  4. Peel and cut up the pears into smallish cubes (1 cm or 0.5 inch), divide evenly in the 6 pans. Add the chocolate so that it is evenly distributed in each pan.
  5. Pour the egg mix into the pans dividing equally among the 6.
  6. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until firmly set. Cool in pans and remove carefully.
    Set aside.

This is only the photo I took of the Clafoutis, it was pear, chocolate with a glorious caramel sauce. I can hardly wait to make this again!

You can make the traditional caramel sauce, or try this unique microwave version.

Caramel Sauce Ingredients:

  • 200 g sugar
  • 50 g water
  • 150 mL heavy cream (I did not substitute this one as the sauce needs the fat)
  • 15 g unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Add the sugar and water to a heavy bottomed pan and heat on a low setting until the sugar is dissolved and has cooked to a beautiful golden caramel colour (be careful, I burned my first two attempts!)
  2. DO NOT STIR. Apparently stirring causes the sugar to crystallize and you will not have a smooth sauce.
  3. When you have achieved the desired colour, add the cream carefully and whisk well. Add the butter and a pinch of salt. Allow to cool.

Assembly:

  1. Warm the clafoutis in the oven for about 10 minutes.
  2. On a large rimmed plate, pour the caramel sauce into the centre and spread out evenly.
  3. Drop one clafoutis into the centre of the sauce and serve warm.

And that concludes our dinner party from Lyon. I hope some of these recipes will inspire you to make something similar. Cheers.

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This is the dish that we prepared with Chef Villard in Lyon during our short visit in September. We made the dish again for friends and fellow blogger Barb and Kevin (Profiteroles and Ponytails) I had to make modifications (shown in brackets) as I wasn’t able to source ingredients or these are our personal preferences. And I didn’t get a chance to snap a pic of our finished dish because the light was poor and I didn’t want to be ‘the blogger‘ (I get enough of the rolling eyes from JT). But I know I shall make this again and update this post with the new photo. Thanks for understanding.

Our main course: Monkfish wrapped in bacon with a green olive veal stock sauce, fingerling potatoes sautéed in EVOO and snap peas with arugula (rocket) pesto. It was DELICIOUS!

Halibut wrapped in Proscuitto with Kalamata Olives in a Brown Jus Reduction

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 600 g Monkfish (we used Halibut because that is all my fish monger had the day I needed it. Go figure, they had a run on monkfish!)
  • 6 slices of prosciutto (Chef used smoked bacon, but we prefer the less fatty prosciutto)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 250 mL beef or veal stock (we used beef as I couldn’t get veal stock)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 60 g Kalamata olives, rough dice (Chef used green olives, but we preferred the flavour of the black Kalamato)
  • 15 g butter (Chef used 60 g which is about 4 tbsp)
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (we omitted the pepper)

Directions:

  1. Have your fish monger filet and skin your fish, wrap with prosciutto and secure with butcher string. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Sweat the shallot in 2 tbsp olive oil, then deglaze with the balsamic vinegar. Add the stock and allow to reduce about one third. Add the butter, and olives and stir well. Set aside.
  3. Pre heat the oven to 175° C or 350°F
  4. Brown the fish in an oven safe pan in olive oil and minced garlic for about 5 minutes (or until the prosciutto is crispy).
  5. Add the warm beef and olive jus to the fish and bake for 5-7 minutes in the pre heated oven.
  6. Serve the fish sliced into about 100-120 g per person with the brown jus and cooked olives with snap peas and arugula pesto and roast potatoes.

Notes:
Chef Villard suggested that if your fish has a thin tail, you should fold it back on itself so that the thickness is even and it cooks at the same rate.

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Good day everyone, I’m still in Lyon (figuratively speaking, of course) and cooking with Chef Villard and his lovely recipes. This is a condiment that he paired with lightly cooked snow peas and a little goats cheese and boy was it good. I particularly loved the colour, unfortunately when you add the goats cheese it lightens up quite a bit, but by then you’re starving for having enjoyed the aromas of the meal all afternoon long!

That sure is green

To be honest, JT wasn’t in love with the pesto which was originally Rocket (arugula), pine nuts and Parmesan cheese so I decided to be inspired by Chef Villard and not follow the recipe 100% (of course you did, says JT). The rocket tends to get a touch bitter when processed, although I do enjoy the peppery taste I wanted to temper the bitterness so I used the same amount of spinach as the rocket. Then I was thinking of the entire meal and wanted to repeat some flavours for consistency, so instead of pine nuts, I used roasted hazelnuts (the pumpkin soup has a drizzle of hazelnut oil to finish it). So in the essence of our meal in Lyon, here is the pesto recipe.

Rocket and Spinach Pesto with Hazelnuts (on Snow Peas with Goats Cheese — not shown)

Serves 6 (I had enough pesto left over for some hors d’œuvres the next day),

Ingredients:

  • 35 g roasted hazelnuts
  • 35 g combined baby rocket (arugula) and baby spinach
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 tbsp EVOO
  • Salt to taste
  • 60 g snow peas
  • 20 g goats cheese

Directions:

  1. In a small food processor add the hazelnuts, rocket, spinach, finely minced garlic and Parmesan cheese and drizzle a small amount of EVOO to get the chopping going adding a little bit to allow the purée to happen with ease (you don’t want this too runny). Taste and salt as desired.
  2. When you have achieved the consistency desired set aside (this is actually quite good if you make it in advance and the flavours have time to really develop).
  3. Cook the snap peas and as soon as they are done, immerse them into ice cold water to stop the cooking quickly. Simmer water on the stove to reheat just prior to serving.
  4. To serve, add a few tablespoons of the pesto to the hot, drained snow peas and crumble the goats cheese into it, stir lightly to distribute evenly.
  5. Enjoy warm.

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As you know during our cooking class in Lyon with Chef Villard, we made a wonderful meal and Chef was kind enough to provide the recipes for the dishes we made together in his kitchen. The next few postings will reflect the dishes that we made as we recreated the meal for our good friends Barb and Kevin (Profiteroles and Ponytails).

Of course, I was not able to obtain some of the ingredients, so I had to improvise, but all in all, it turned out very well and I really enjoyed it (I hope our guests did too!)

The Improvised Menu:

Escargot en chou
• Pumpkin velouté scented with vanilla with EVOO sautéed wild mushrooms and seared scallops with hazelnut oil drizzle •
• Halibut wrapped in Prosciutto with a black olive beef stock sauce, new potatoes sautéed in EVOO and snap peas with arugula (rocket) pesto •
• Pear and milk chocolate clafoutis with home made caramel sauce •

I’m starting off with the pumpkin velouté because I’ve already posted about our starter, so please feel free to click on the link. Of course, hosting a dinner party with a complex menu and taking photos for the blog don’t actually go well together so instead of delaying dinner for our lovely guests, I served this soup again the next night when my nephew Brian was over for a much more casual dinner and was able to easily snap a pic without inconvenience.

Chef and I in the garden

Pumpkin Velouté wth Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, Seared Scallop and hazelnut oil

Chef Villard’s Pumpkin velouté scented with vanilla with EVOO sautéed trumpet mushrooms and seared scallops with hazelnut oil drizzle. OMG, this was amazing!

Now, as usual I have made the recipe a little healthier and did not use the called for cream, but if you wish to make it yourself, please go ahead and indulge. I will also caveat that I made some preparation changes to the way Chef Villard made his soup; I oven roasted the pumpkin because all I was able to get was pie pumpkins and they tend not to be as sweet as the pumpkin that Chef Villard used, so I felt roasting would coax the sugars out of it more than just boiling. As well, our mushrooms were just ordinary wild mushrooms and not the intended trumpet mushrooms which are delicately earthy so I sautéed my wild mushrooms in butter to try to temper the strong earthiness of the wild ones! And last but not least, I roasted an entire head of garlic and added that to the soup because I like roasted garlic better than just cooked garlic. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same 😉

Pumpkin Velouté with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Scallops with Hazelnut Oil

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 600 g pumpkin (butternut squash would also work very well in this recipe
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • 600 mL chicken stock (home made or low sodium if store bought)
  • 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
  • 150 mL Carnation Light Evaporated Milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • 12 Scallops
  • 200 g wild mushrooms (or trumpet mushrooms)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed flat (not small pieces, you want it whole enough to extract before serving).
  • 1 tbsp hazelnut oil

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175° C or 350° F
  2. Peel and chop the pumpkin to 2-3 cm (1 inch) cubes, drizzle with olive oil and bake until fork tender.
  3. Peel off all of the skin from the garlic so only the individual cloves have their skin on. Put in a small ramekin and add about 3 tbsp EVOO and sea salt and bake until fork tender.
  4. In a large soup pot, add 2 tbsp EVOO and sweat out the onions until tender. Add the chicken stock and vanilla pod and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds and add it back to the pot.
  5. Add the roasted garlic and pumpkin and cook for about 6 minutes. Blend until very smooth with an immersion blender and press through a fine sieve. Set aside.
  6. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the mushrooms and garlic clove and sautée until the mushrooms are tender. Set aside.
  7. Heat a frying pan up so and add a splash of olive oil. Dry off the scallops and fry each side until golden.
  8. Process the soup one more time with the immersion blender to aerate it.
  9. Plating: using either a large rimmed soup bowl or a small soup cup, add equal portions to the centre of each bowl. Spoon the soup around the mushrooms, garnish with scallop(s) and hazelnut oil.
  10. Enjoy.

Chef’s Notes:

Chef Villard was kind enough to pass along his experience and give us a few restaurant hints, that I would love to share with you:

  • Process creamed soups again just before serving to aerate it, Chef Villard mentioned that this makes the soup extra light.
  • When cooking any type of protein, it’s important to make sure that the thickness is even thoughout otherwise the thin bits will over cook while you finish cooking the thicker bits. So if you have a piece of fish with a thin tail end, fold it back over the next thickest part to even out the entire fishes thickness. Wrapping with prosciutto helps hold it together.

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Whilst in Lyon I also bought some dark mustard seeds (now I know I’m not the only one who buys food as souvenirs). Apparently the darker the seeds the hotter the mustard, I didn’t know this then, but as it turns out, dark is good because I LOVE a hot mustard. Another thing I didn’t know in making mustard is that you can tame the heat by cooking the mustard, the longer you cook it, the less hot it will be. Go figure.

I mixed in my yellow mustard seeds for good measure

I didn’t cook mine at all.

If you’re wondering, I made the label! The jar came from a trip out to Whistler, BC about 20 years ago. We ‘needed‘ Dijon mustard for a dinner in our condo and the one I bought came with this adorable little jar (you knew I was gonna buy that jar whether we needed mustard for our dinner or not!). Anyway, I loved the jar and the little wooden spoon, and it’s perfect for my home made mustard.

I remember seeing a post from my friend Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella and she made home made mustard from scratch. I know my Mom used to make it from time to time, but sadly I never got the recipe and when Lorraine made it a few months ago, I knew I had to give it a try. I won’t be buying grainy mustard again. It’s easy to make and the taste totally rocks. You have to leave it for a couple of days otherwise the seeds are quite bitter, but once it ages, it is lovely.

I made this batch to take to my brother’s cottage for Thanksgiving weekend. I served it with Turkey Sausages with the Fluffy Buttermilk Cakes of Pan breakfast JT and I made.

Grainy French Mustard

Makes about 125 mL or 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons mustard seeds (I used 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds and 5 tbsps brown French mustard seeds)
  • 1/2 cup mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons honey (this simply smooths out the heat, it doesn’t actually make the mustard sweet)
  • 1/3 cup water (use cold water if you like your mustard hot and spicy or use warm or hot water if you like your mustard mild)

Directions:

  1. In your dedicated spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind about 1/3 of the total seeds. s
  2. In a small bowl, combine the ground and whole seeds, mustard powder and water; stir to combine.
  3. Rest this mixture for 15 minutes, then add salt, white wine vinegar and honey (for a milder mustard, you can gently heat this mixture in a saucepan for a few minutes).
  4. Pour this mixture into a sterilized glass jar (the longer it stands the thicker it gets) and allow to age for at least 12 hours or overnight to settle the flavour (it is very bitter to use immediately, the flavour really smooth out over time).
  5. You need not store mustard in the refrigerator, but I do.

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Lentilles du Puy

Before our recent trip to Europe, I had read many-a-blog about lentilles du Puy so you know what was on the top of my souvenir list. But of course, the Lentilles du Puy. Grown in the du Puy region of France, these lentils are known as the best of all the lentils for a few reasons: they cook quickly, they don’t break down and go mushy and they have a wonderful peppery taste. Many of their benefits can be attributed to the volcanic soil they are grown in. These delicious lentilles du Puy are wonderful in salads as they don’t lose their shape. We’ve just been home 10 days and I’m almost through my 500g box (yes, it was worth the weight) of dried lentils and I’m already panicking to find a source in the city. HELP!

The box could use a redesign, don’t you think?

I got my inspiration from this recipe on Epicurious and tuned it the second time as I forgot to photograph it the first time (and almost forgot to photograph it the second time too!).

This dish was almost a memory by the time I remembered to take the photo; hence the closeup, it was my lunch at work!

Lentilles du Puy

Serves 4,

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock or wine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pancetta
  • handful of sliced white or brown mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • grape tomatoes finely chopped
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 bunch arugula, coarse stems discarded, washed well and spun dry

Directions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan sauté the pancetta until crispy in 2 tbsp olive oil. Remove but reserve the remaining olive oil.
  2. In the pancetta oil sauté the onions and when translucent, add the lentilles du Puy, garlic, thyme and mushrooms and give it a quick stir. Add the liquid and cook covered for 30 minutes on a low simmer (the original recipe called to strain the liquid off the lentils, but I reduced the liquid so that the lentils absorb it all and you have a beautifully cooked batch).
  3. Add the crisp pancetta, grape tomatoes and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve on a bed of Arugula or as is.

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We were at my brother’s family cottage for Canadian Thanksgiving and I usually look after one main meal, but this year we were not able to come up on Saturday for dinner, so I looked after breakfast on Sunday morning. But that’s not all I contribute, my brother’s family does the full-blown turkey dinner, so I like to bring ‘treats’ for the kids (and adults alike). This year’s treats included the Cheez-itz from my friend Ann (who no longer blogs), Hungarian Donkey Ear Cookies and a more recent addition Hungarian Cherry Squares. After having her first bite of the Cherry Squares, my 8-year old niece announced the following “Auntie Éva, from now on, these cherry squares need to be put on ‘the list’ of things you bake for Thanksgiving Weekend.” Now that made everything all worth-while!

I found this recipe on-line back in the city but I had forgotten to bookmark it and I couldn’t find it up north, so I had to improvise the final assembly. Fortunately, I brought the dry ingredients in a container and the wet in another. Experience counts for something and to be honest, these are THE BEST fluffy pancakes I have made in a very long time. And the recipe was plentiful, making 12 generously-sized pancakes. They are a bit more work than the average pancake, but well worth the effort. Hope you try them, this is my new go-to pancake recipe.

They are really fluffy and not stuffy

Super Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes 12 pancakes about 13 cm wide and 2cm thick! (5″ wide, 3/4″ thick)

Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 nonstick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl or Tupperware container for travel, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  2. On the day you wish to make the cakes of pan: separate egg yolks from egg whites and beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form but not dry.
  3. Beat the egg yolks until light yellow in colour and thick, add buttermilk, vanilla and melted butter and beat until smooth on a slow speed.
  4. Fold in flour mixture, but don’t over mix as we don’t want the glutens activated.
  5. Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and mix together gently then fold in the remaining egg whites carefully, do not over mix!
  6. Spray your skillet with non-stick spray set to medium temperature (or 350°F).
  7. Drop about 1/3 cup of batter on pan for each pancake and spread out to about 4-5″ and cook until you see a few bubbles on the surface of the batter. Flip your pancakes and cook for about another 1-2 minutes.
  8. Keep warm until you have made all the pancakes and serve warm with butter, maple syrup, fruit and whipped cream!

Pass the cakes of pan, as they are known in our house

It’s always a food frenzy…way too much food

We went for a good long walk after the Buttermilk Pancake Breakfast

Gorgeous fall colours

Thanksgiving Dinner with the family

Now who invited her?

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A few of my lovely readers have commented that they would love to have a tapas dinner party but it seems like a lot of work, so I’ve put together a few words of advice as I have hosted tapas dinner parties for over a year now and have experienced successes and failures. I hope these tricks alleviate the mystery and inspire you to have a tapas dinner party.

  1. Planning is everything. Think of a theme you wish to follow and create a menu around it; break it out into steps for timing and serving (I’ll give an example of this). Decide how many groups of courses you will serve (i.e., 4 courses of sets of 1-2 dishes are 4 x 1 (0r 2)). If this is your first tapas dinner party and you don’t have a stock up of quick hors d’œuvres in the freezer then start the cooking about 1 week in advance and make 1 to 2 things for the freezer. Don’t worry, you will use them up eventually!
  2. Mise en place is key. Chop, cut, slice, grate anything you can do ahead of time, DO IT. Prepare similar items all at once (as in chop ALL the onions you will need and separate it out into each course). Store meats and fishes in the fridge. I always put ingredients that need to be together in one place in the fridge.
  3. It’s on ‘the list’. There are many components to a tapas dinner party, so even the best of us will struggle to remember everything you need to add, pinch, and sauce so MAKE A LIST and REFER to it throughout the evening.
  4. Distribute the labour. I have found including your partner in helping with preparation and serving the courses allows each of you to alternate kitchen duty and spend time with your guests.
  5. Make it Simple. Choose a combination of freshly made courses and previously made and frozen courses.
  6. Keep it small. Remember that you are having a lot of food over a long period of time so portions should be small (for example, 1-2 medium shrimp per person is one course. Do you have frozen soup in the fridge? Serve it in shooters instead of bowls—it’s an instant serving!
  7. Timing is everything. Make sure you serve the courses spread out over time, this dinner party is about conversation and food…all night. Our tapas usually last 3-4 hours with some breathers in between.
  8. Relax. Fortunately Tapas make a very casual dinner party so you needn’t worry when one coarse is 15 minutes later than expected. Keep the wine flowing and the conversation going and you will have a wonderful evening.

To illustrate how easy this type of dinner party is, below I am posting a sample menu. I may use this for a future dinner party.

Our 21012 European Adventure through Tapas (4 x 1):

Course 1: Budapest

  • Áginéni’s Cheese Sticks (I usually have these in the freezer, but if I don’t I just make a fresh batch and freeze the leftovers for another party!)

Course 2: Spain

Course 3: France

  • Escargot en Profiteroles (I always have the cheese puffs, canned escargot, and frozen butter, garlic and parsley balls ready for action)

Course 4: Austria

  • Austrian Sachertorte three ways. Make one beautiful dessert and serve it three different ways in very small portions. (off the top of my head, I’m thinking 1) a traditional slice, 2) roughly cut into a small trifle, 3) and twice baked into a small biscotti and served with a mini cappuccino!)

Think ahead when you’re cooking weekday meals, if you’re making a large batch of chili, put aside a full serving for a future tapas dinner and serve it in mini pitas. If you’ve made soup, set aside enough for shooters and serve in espresso cups. A dip and bread may be considered as a course. A simple course might be Saganaki. I try to alternate previously prepared or easy courses with something a bit more complex. Involving your partner to help with alternate courses also breaks up the time spent in the kitchen…don’t you think your partner might love to light the Saganaki and serve this fiery treat?

Desserts, I find are relatively easy too. If you’ve made brownies, cut the edges and freeze. Then for a small tapas dessert, whip some cream or make a quick custard and assemble a trifle with the left-over edges, serve with a shot for extra effect!

Example for timing the menu above (note: the times are just guidelines)

7:30 guests arrive, start with libations and Aunte Ági’s cheese sticks. Pit the oven on and move into the living room and have lovely conversation. Perhaps put on a fire, and definitely play some music (we like jazz).

7:45: put the scallops into the oven, they will take longer than the bacon wrapped dates. Depending on the size of scallops, turn about 5-7 minutes, now add the bacon wrapped dates. Bake for another 5-7 minutes.

8:10 serve the bacon wrapped scallops and dates. Keep the oven on.

Around 8:30-8:45 your partner should pop into the kitchen to start the chorizo course, meanwhile fill the glasses.

Warm the serving dish and prepare the dish.

9:00 Serve chorizo dish with bread.

9:45 You’ll likely want a bit of a break, but you can ready the escargot for the oven, bake for 10 minutes until butter has melted and the Chou is crispy. Serve hot at 10ish.

The dessert should already be made and plated with some last minute garnished to attend to. Serve with coffee/tea when your guest say they are ready.

Tapas need not be stressful, after all, it’s about getting together with friends in a casual setting. Cheers! I hope to read about your tapas dinner party soon.

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We invited my friend Kim and her hubby for coffee and cake after seeing Cloud Atlas at the TIFF film festival. I was hoping to have a great discussion about the film (and there was a lot to discuss) but unfortunately, they hated the film so instead of prolonging their misery, I served coffee and cake.

I started the recipe and was committed to it when I realized I didn’t have quite enough GF Flour, so I improvised and added the remainder as finely ground corn meal. It added a very nice texture to the cake and no body threw it back at me!

Original recipe can be found here.

A lovely honey and ginger taste, it’s garnished with fresh figs, candied ginger slices, candied walnuts and edible rose petals.

Gluten Free Honey & Ginger Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz liquid honey
  • 6 oz gluten-free flour
  • 2 oz of fine cornmeal (just run regular cornmeal through a coffee grinder to get a fine powder)
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 3 oz of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp orange essence
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1 egg (the cake was very crumbly, I might add another egg next time)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 oz finely grated fresh ginger

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C).
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl and add the sugar and zest. Rub the butter in (you can do this in a food processor with plastic blades)
  3. Warm the honey slightly, and beat it with the egg. Mix into the flour mixture.
  4. Mix the baking soda with 3 tbsps of water until dissolved, then process it into the flour mixture.
  5. Stir in the finely minced ginger pour into a greased or lined 8″ square pan.
  6. Bake for about 50 minutes (mine was ready in about 40 minutes). Cool it in the pan for about 10 minutes then turn it onto a cooling rack until cold.

A very tasty but crumbly cake

I garnished the cake with additional warmed honey, fresh figs cut into quarters, honey walnuts, slices of candied ginger and edible rose petals.

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Good day friends, I hope this post finds you all in a good place and bearing the chilly fall temperatures (or the warmer spring temperatures for my friends down under). As promised this is the final installment for my vacation photos and it’s Paris! We traveled to Paris from Lyon via the TGV which is their high speed train. Four years ago we went from Avignon to Paris on the TGV and enjoyed it so much, we thought we’d do it again! Normally this trip would have taken an entire day, but on the TGV it’s only three hours — that’s how fast it goes! Here is a little movie to show the speed.

The trip itself was quiet and uneventful and we arrived at the main train station in Paris on time. Because JT was still hobbling so we took a cab to our apartment which seemed to be on the complete opposite side of town, and was expensive. They have a direct train to the airport but it was a 30 minute walk to the apartment and considering our situation, we decided against it.

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The apartment was on the fourth floor, fifth if you count the ground floor as one (Europeans count it as zero). 88 steps up. 22kg (50lbs) of luggage EACH! Fortunately, our lovely host Jean-François bolted both of our bags up the 88 steps to our beautiful flat. I’ll be the first person to admit it, seven pairs of shoes seemed like a good idea at the time I selected my outfits for the trip, but from here on in, I will change my packing MO, for sure! I will limit myself to three pairs of shoes (knowing full well that I will likely buy a pair or two while away!) Now I just need a long trip to test myself!

Our flat was in the Montmartre district, not very touristy, but that’s a good thing. I like having a simple breakfast because it’s an easy way to control the calories particularly on vacation so we bought some provisions for breakfasts and cocktails and we were good to go!

We didn’t have great weather, these things happen, so we stayed close to home for dinners but we explored like crazy during the daytime — rain or no rain, it’s Paris! In fact, the weather made us choose activities we might not have normally chosen. For example, the Pompidou Centre which is apparently the largest collection of modern art. Not sure about you, but I just don’t get the large rock on a 1970’s fridge as art. Really? But they also have some more interesting pieces that I can relate to. The Pompidou centre has a lovely lookout at the top and if you don’t wish to subject yourself to art: pile of bricks on the floor, you can pay only for the lookout. They also have a restaurant up there too which is supposed to be pretty good bit it was expensive and it was overcast; had it been a sunny day, we would have splurged! Musée de l’Orangerie is another gallery that we visited, it’s not expensive and it’s quite manageable in a couple of hours. It has Monet’s Water Lilies, the really huge paintings — they have two or three large rooms dedicated to 4 works each…they are HUGE!

We also did some old favorites, like the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which gives you a gorgeous view of the Champs Elleyse, the top of Montmartre with the beautiful Sacré-Cœur Bascilica and the lively artists selling their art in the square. We were also up close to the Obelisque in the Place de la Concorde. We tried to get into the crypts at Notre Dame Cathedral but the line up was bad, so we passed; it wasn’t our first trip to Paris and I’m sure it won’t be our last, so it’s on the list for next time.

Food was as good as ever; we had some lovely meals at little ma and pa restaurants in our direct hood! I had a lot of steak tartare…and Caprese salads. One meal in particular was at a place called Le Bistrot Pappillon where I had a tuna tartare, but I loved the crispy rosette of Phylo pastry they garnished the dish with. I snapped a pic to make sure I don’t forget…you’ll be seeing that technique sometime soon!

And last but not least, on our final day in Paris, we had the opportunity to meet up for lunch with fellow blogger Charles, of Five Euro Foods. Charles is gracious, kind, generous and charming…exactly what you would expect from reading his blog. Charles generously treated us to a Korean BBQ luncheon at one of his favourite spots. Neither JT nor I had experienced this wonderful and tasty food before so it seemed apropos to experience it first with Charles. We had a delicious beef BBQ with a variety of toppings and sauces, Shiso leaves or lettuce leaves and steamed rice; he also ordered an interesting soup with tofu. We were very well fed! Thank you Charles for a memorable lunch, it was so lovely to meet you.

Eva and Charles enjoying a Macaron in Paris

Charles recently became a Dad to a lovely young man named William. If you pop over to his blog you can see a photo of William sporting a very chic jumper (if I do say so myself)! You will also see my friend Barb’s (Profiteroles and Ponytails) very first guest post successfully making non-other than the famed Macarons. Barb had asked me to pick up some Macarons for Charles and I to munch on while JT took our photos; what can I say, it’s a tough job, but someone had to do it! We found a perfect little specialty shop in Montmartre called Christophe Roussel (recommended by a blog called Madaboutmacarons that claimed it was the best in Paris and boy, they were TASTY — wish I had bought more of them! Particularly the salted caramel … YUM). Fortunately, our last day in Paris was perfect with warm temperatures and sunny – just right for the photo opp!

So that concludes our European Adventure for 2012. Thank you so much for joining us on our little journey and now we’ll get back into regular programming. Blog on!

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I released the polenta squares too early! So annoyed with myself so I thought I’d follow it up with some more tapas. I wrote this post before our trip thinking that I’ll be swamped and jet-lagged when we get back, so glad I did because I so am all of the above. Work is nice and busy, I got a great little freelance job in and I’m ready for bed at 8pm most nights! I’m not complaining, just giving you the lay of the land.
I had mentioned that I love tapas dinner parties, so the Sunday before our holiday we had friends Rae and Monica over for a simplified tapas dinner party; their two youngest girls went to a concert close by and they needed to kill a few hours, so we said, come on over! We didn’t have a lot of time, so I had to abbreviate the standard 3×4 courses, so we only had 4×1 courses in total. It was plenty of food. In fact, I had to forgo one of the planned courses; fortunately tapas are make as you go so nothing went to waste, we just had it for dinner later in the week.

I’m also trying Instagram on my iPhone 4Gs, not quite as nice as the Canon, but pretty close. It really does better during the daylight as opposed to night. I never use the flash, mainly because my 3Gs never had one, so I really don’t miss it. What do you think?

Abbreviated Tapas Dinner Party

Sawsans Flat Bread with Tapenade and John’s home made Ricotta

Because you fold the tapenade and ricotta into the dough, it makes it flavourful throughout

Chilled cucumber shooters with greek yogurt. I made the soup with vegetable stock as we had a vegetarian in our midst.

Very tasty little shots

Sizzling garlic Shrimp with cilantro and lemon with home made spelt fajita shells

I thought I made too much food…not

Gluten-free Honey Ginger Cake with fresh figs, candied ginger slices and edible rose petals

No one was gluten-free, but I had some left over cake from the previous night


Lyon and Paris also had to be broken down into two parts, too much stuff to talk about, you’ll see why. I’ll need a vacation from my vacation!

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We’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving at my brother’s place on the Muskoka’s and it’s pretty chilly. Although on the way up the trees seemed to be at their height of Autumn colours, the trees along Lake Rosseau aren’t quite there yet.

I set up a couple of posts before our holidays knowing that I would be busy when I returned; I’m still trying to organize all my photos from the trip, but that is a full time job. It’s great to have the camera (iPhone) at your disposal all the time, but it does make it too very easy to take too many photos. I have more than 300 and JT has over 150 photos (he didn’t bother taking too many because my phone takes better pictures!). I am hoping to have the Paris part of our trip next week sometime, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post…continuing on the tapas theme.

We had a tapas dinner party for some friends the weekend before we left and I made Spelt Fajita Shells; I made them myself instead of buying them at the store because I wanted smaller shells, so that we wouldn’t fill up on one tapa. They worked out great, and I’ll be making them again.

Can you guess what this is?

How about this?

We had a garlic shrimp skillet to stuff these little babies with. It was quite successful as the shrimp vanished in no time!

I made mini fajita shells so that we could eat more of them!

Spelt Fajita Shells

Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup spelt berries, ground in a mill or 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 cup hot water

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients (I used my food processor, but don’t over process) and mix into a ball of dough. It should have a little elasticity but not too much.
  2. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 16-20 equal parts and let sit, covered, another 20 minutes (these will make a tortilla about 10cm or 4inches in diametre).
  4. Take each ball and place closer to the hinge of the tortilla press (not centre) and press down. To get it even thinner and bigger, pulse the press a few time so that the dough reaches to the edges of the press. Repeat until all of the dough balls have been pressed. Keep covered with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
  5. Preheat a skillet on medium high heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Cook each side of the tortilla until golden (or slightly brown, like mine)
  7. Cook all of the tortillas, watching carefully. The instructions said to place the tortillas in a plastic bag, with wet paper towels in between them to keep them soft and moist but if you forget, you can steam the tortillas just before serving and they will become soft and moist and fresh again.
  8. Freeze leftovers and reheat by steaming.

Yes, that is a glazed ceramic flower pot bottom, you caught me ;-)!

Sizzling garlic shrimp with cilantro and lemon

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We’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend and JT and I traditionally head up to my brother’s cottage in the Muskoka’s. We’ve had all sorts of weather during this weekend over the years, from swimming in Lake Rosseau to a little snow. But what ever the weather, there is always lots of food, reconnecting with family and lots of wine. We wish you all a very happy Canadian Thanksgiving and safe travels. Remember, it’s never smart to drink and drive (Hungary has a Zero tolerance rate and France is 0.5!) Just choose a DD and give them lots of dessert instead! Happy holidays friends.

For this post, I’ve had to change my plan and divide Lyon and Paris into two posts so that I don’t bore you too much. I also figured out how to add a slide show (boy, that was painful!) but it’s done. So if you have a moment, please visit with us in Lyon.

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A little history of why we chose Lyon; it is said to the Gastronomic Capital of France. I’ve read that there are over 30 Michelin star restaurants in the city. The people clearly love food and since we do too we thought it would be a perfect match. And it was…for the most part. We had read that we must experience the traditional Bouchon in Lyon and I’ve read many blogs advising that, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately Bouchon’s are generally small places and serve only a fixed menu of three to four courses, and unless you reserve well in advance you simply cannot get in (they only cook for the number of seats in the restaurant, and there is only one seating!). I simply cannot eat three to four courses and feel good, so we decided to just go to a bistro specializing in the cuisine of Lyon and order one course. We did this on night one, the day before our trip to Geneva to meet our friend Ted and his partner Ji. I ordered the andouillette of Lyon (warning…this may be offensive to the ultra sensitive) it is a ‘sausage’ of various ofal particularly some kind of tripe. Now I can eat practically anything, but this dish had an odor (Charles described his experience that he thought someone left the W/C door open, but now I’m getting ahead of myself) I thought it smelled of barn yard, very earthy and very strong. I didn’t take a photo as the lighting was really bad (and I’d rather not be reminded of the experience). It was served in a cream sauce (very rich) and a gratin of potatoes (quite yummy). I could barely eat it, but I persevered and had about a quarter (JT finished the rest). I did not have a good night that night and didn’t recover until lunch the following day! JT had smaller, more traditional sausages that reminded me of bratwurst, without a heavy sauce. Neither were high on my favourite list. But we were entertained for the most part by a street entertainer who was quite funny mimicking people and making rude balloon objects! We figured he could take 100E per set, and given an evening, he probably does 3-4 sets in different neighbourhoods.

Also, you can bet a tomato will taste like a tomato in France. They still care.

Note: if you click on the first photo in the gallery below, it will enlarge and you can click through them like a gallery!
Sorry, but it doesn’t work on your iPhone.

Geneva trip 1:

We made arrangements to meet up with our good friend Ted whom we haven’t seen for at least 10 years. He and his partner Ji traveled by train from outside Zurich to make this possible. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in Geneva’s oldest restaurant/hotel in the historic district. I may have even sat in the same chair as George Clooney; check out their guest book. Geneva is a beautiful city whose population is manly made up of people from somewhere else; there are many company head offices in Geneva as well. We had hoped to meet up with other blogger in Geneva too, but sadly she had to travel for work on the date we could make it. We shall have to return one day.

Geneva trips 2:

We had booked a tour at C.E.R.N laboratories so that we could see what all the fuss was about. This was a very bad weather day; traveling on the highways, it rained so heavily that at times we were unable to see the hood of the car! The tour itself was lead by a physicist and was interesting but we both felt that since we were in Lyon for such a short time, this little side trip could have been avoided without much loss. Plus it was a gorgeous day in Lyon which we missed entirely! And we had to rush back for our cooking class! Not-withstanding the tolls which over the two days were in excess of 100E! Oh well. Live and learn.

Upon our return to Lyon we tried to return the car with the tank empty but they would have charged us 175E to fill it themselves so we opted to find a station and fill it ourselves for 52E. It took over an hour (mainly waiting for people to fill their cars) and return…only minutes to spare for our cooking class. Chef Villard was ready for us waiting in the lobby of our hotel! I barely had time to change and freshen up!

Cooking Class with Chef Jean-Marc Villard

Winemakers notes: “The color is a brilliant light straw. Aromas of intense acacia, yellow peaches and exotic fruits. On the palate the wine is very elegant and harmonious. Its freshness allows the fruit to fully develop. A seductive wine to be enjoyed with appetizers and hors d’oeuvres”.

Our cooking class was amazing and I would definitely recommend it. Chef Villard is fluent in English and is a kind instructor. His kitchen in tidy and calm, but then again there were only two of us. I shall list the menu, but as you can well imagine, I shall be blogging about it in future blog posts! Chef Villard kindly created a little hors d’œuvres of sausages wrapped in home-made brioche (he served the meal with a lovely local wine made with a Viognier grape), we then had a wonderful creamed pumpkin soup fragranced with vanilla bean, drizzled with hazelnut oil (OMG, you MUST smell this!) and served with three seared scallops. Chef Villard mentioned that it depends where you are in France with the fat is that they use…not everyone cooks with butter! Our main course was a Monkfish wrapped in bacon with a delightful veal sauce with green olives (the sweetness of the veal stock and the saltiness of the olives really went well with the fish, and the bacon wrapping was not too salty at all), with olive oil sautéed fingerling potatoes and some lovely snap peas with an arugula (rocket) pesto. For dessert we made a pear and chocolate clafoutis with a glorious caramel sauce. Yes, this will be a dinner for several friends over the next month or so. Of course, I will try to make it marginally healthier (although for a French Chef, he didn’t use as much cream as I thought he might!). This was a very enjoyable dinner. If you are in Lyon, you must try to get into one of his classes, you will not be disappointed. We ate with Chef and Mme Villard and chatted as if we were long-time friends. It was a very enjoyable evening.

We’re off to Paris next on the TGV! See you soon.

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I was very excited about our trip to Barcelona, Spain because I was hoping to be inspired to create new and innovated tapas. As you all know, I enjoy having tapas dinner parties and this little inspiration will make a wonderful addition to my repertoire. Although we didn’t really have anything like it in Barcelona, I created this hors d’œuvres the first day of our return, I was just so darn excited about it. It’s relatively simple, and if you have polenta left over, even better. I made a small batch and cooled it with ice and our heat sucking stone (our Canadian Soapstone counters have the ability to suck heat out of anything you put on it). JT thought they were just OK, but I think he would love them if I had just put some bacon on them! I really enjoyed them; you can top them with anything, including prosciutto or even a crispy fried sausage slice but I just used some simple Sharp Cheddar with Horse Radish. You can also serve this warm or at room temperature. I froze the left over polenta squares and will use them for a future tapas dinner party! Cheers!

Polenta Cheese “Crisps”

Crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The cheese was just the icing on the cake!

Original recipe modified from Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup polenta (not quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 2 tbsp canola oil for frying
  • 25 small square slices of cheese, your choice
  • Chives for garnish

Directions:

  1. Spray an 8″ square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine water, polenta, herbs, and pinch of salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until polenta begins to pull away from side of pan, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter until incorporated, then transfer polenta to baking dish, spreading evenly with a dampened rubber spatula. Chill until set, about 45 minutes (to speed up the process, I put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and lined ice cubes along the top. Once the cubes started to melt, I pulled them off and then carefully lifted the plastic wrap so the water didn’t spill onto the firm polenta).
  3. Turn out the polenta from the pan (should fall out easily, mine did) and cut into 2-3 cm (1.5″) squares. Preheat a cast iron frying pan and add about 2 tbsp canola oil. Fry one side until golden and then flip. Cover the second side with a 1-2mm slice of cheese, garnish with chives.
  4. Serve warm or room temperature.

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We travelled from Vienna to Barcelona with one of the intercontinental airlines, Berlin Air; it was efficient and relatively inexpensive (less than $100 pp Canadian). The terminal in Vienna is being overhauled and I don’t know about you, but JT and I have the uncanny ability to chose a flight that departs from the absolute farthest terminal in and out of the building. This was no exception; fortunately we were able to dump our weighty luggage early and manage the walk (and hobble) to the extreme farthest part of the temporary portable building (yes, this terminal was even farther from the actual terminal — it was outside the terminal!). Our drive from Budapest took two hours longer than it should have and we were both anxious not to miss the flight, we made it but we’re being boarded within 15 minutes of arrival! Thank goodness my dear Aunt made sandwiches which we gobbled down while speed-waiting! For some reason security did not care about food, just our documents which were pulled out and scrutinized. Oh, and my shoes! (nudge, nudge wink, wink my shoe buds Kristy and Charlie)

We rented an apartment with AirBnB that was in the Barri Gotic area (thanks for the tip for AirBnB, Charles – I’ll have a little surprise about Charles later!). The apartment was great, much as described on line and the bed was comfy, the kitchen had a coffee maker and a good fridge and the bathroom was modern and we had free wifi! The location was great too, within a short walk to La Rambla with the pedestrian boulevards with restaurants and shops.

The living room overlooked a quiet pedestrian street-no noisy mopeds!

This is the pass through to the small ‘office’. We were streaming music from Martini in the Morning a lovely Jazz station in Southern California.

The bed was a king which is unheard of in Europe! Nice and roomy.

The dining area in the kitchen. That’s an interior window that opened to a fairly large shaft. People hung their laundry out there!

Modern appliances and a N’espresso Machine. Mind you we did have a bit of a challenge finding the cartridges for the machine. To save calories we ate a simple breakfast in our apartment most mornings (plain yogurt, a little bread and coffee)

Our first full day was kind of a bust, full fledged rain so we opted for a bus tour of the city — a great way to get to know what you want to see. We ended up getting the two day pass so that we could go back and see things more in detail, but we ended up just seeing new things. So much to see, so little time.

The architecture is very interesting — this is the Olah hotel with strange eyeballs/Security cameras on the exterior.

Designed by Gaudi a famous Spanish architect and a leader of Catalan Modernism.

Personally, I find Gaudi architecture somewhat disturbing and upsetting

The organic shapes almost seem to make the building come alive…like it’s an alien.

JT had read about this place and indeed it was an excellent lunch

Views from the bus tour

This undulating roof was a market just around the corner from our apartment. Sadly it was open only until 4pm every day and we kept missing it.

Just around the corner from our apartment

They were setting up a stage for later that evening when the Catalan’s would protest for separation. Québequois are not the only one’s who wish to separate!

The Cathedral of Barcelona interior a wonderful example of high gothic architecture

A restaurant that once was the cellars to another cathedral.

It was a really cute place, but the food was just so-so.

Statue of Christopher Columbus. Yes, he was indeed Italian, but his boat was Spanish!

We had a lovely lunch on the shores of the Mediterranean!

A selection of tapas…I did happen to ‘borrow’ the menu for future ideas!

Part of our hood

Along La Ramba, the pedestrian avenue

The weather became brighter and warmer as the evening progressed

The protestors who want to separate. All peaceful.

Walking back…so many motorbikes and scooters!


And that concludes our trip to Barcelona. I had additional photos showing a vista from a fort high above the city, but sadly the light didn’t really provide enough contrast and the photos were dull and boring. We’ll just have to return to Barcelona to get better photos!

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Hello friends, hope you’ve all been very well over the last few weeks I’ve been away. We had sporadic internet service over our holidays and I did try to stop by and leave a comment or two, but alas on going back I did notice some did not ‘stick’ and I do apologize. I’ll try to make it up over the following weeks.

Our holidays did get off to a rocky start, with our seats unable to recline on the ancient aircraft Austrian Air employ but that just meant everything else can be so much better, or not, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In order not to bore you with a million-word post, I’ll condense our trip into three sections: Part I will be Vienna and Budapest; Part II Barcelona; Part III will be Lyon and Paris.

I’ll let you know from the get-go that our weather pretty much sucked! If it wasn’t dark gloomy skies and chilly temperatures then it was dark gloomy skies with chilly temperatures teaming with rain. But that didn’t slow us down as much as … oops! There I go getting ahead of myself again. We did have a few nice days, and you’ll see which one’s in the photos. Those of you on my Facebook have had glimpses of our holiday already…so now I hope you enjoy the narrative!

As you know, we landed in Vienna pretty much unscathed, even though beauty sleep avoided us; we had anticipation and adrenaline pretty much on our side, so we were ready for the experience. JT booked us into the Radisson Blu which is in the inner circle in Vienna; the cab from the airport was rather pricey, so if you don’t over-packed (like I did) you may want to take the commuter train which is much less expensive. Quite surprisingly our room was ready at the bright and early arrival time of 10:30am and we were quite pleased because we like to unpack and freshen up after such a long flight (8 hours from Toronto). We set out on a mission to find a lunch place and look around the city. We’ve been many times before (it’s a perfect spot to pick up a rental car and drive the 2-3 hours to Budapest, and it has many intercontinental connector flights to facilitate our adventures) so we were just walking around to air our heads and check out the new/renovated shops.

One of my favourite stops is the Julius Meinl specialty grocer right in the Graben. It’s a feast for the eyes and stomach. The chocolate section is unparalleled!

This is just one of the aisles for the chocolate section. It spans about 1/4 of the entire store.

I just couldn’t resist a chocolate bunny box, image by Andy Warhol. This one is for my friend Genie all the way down under in New Zealand, a fellow bunny lover.

As you can see, Austria is not cheap. In fact, breakfast in our hotel was a lofty 28 Euros (about 35 Canadian dollars) per person. We decided to order one and share, and it’s a good thing we did, even one was more food than we both could eat.

We chose Danieli for lunch and Huth for dinner (which I’ve talked about in my first post about Vienna).

Here is a lovely picture of Danieli and my delicious salad.

A very nice Italian Restaurant in the Graben

I just can’t get enough of this delicious salad. They just call this cheese Bufala Mozzarella

Budapest was a trip to visit family. My dear uncle passed away over a year ago and I haven’t been back since so it was a rather emotionally stressful time for me. I am pleased to say that all went well, and although there were a few moments of water works, it went rather smoothly. My family lives on Rosa Domb (Rose Hill) in Buda, which is the quieter side of Budapest. They used to live in the heart of it all in Pest, but about 30 years ago decided to move in preparation for their retirement. They have a lovely four-story town-house. We packed 22kg (about 50lbs) into each of our cases, and the guest room is…you guessed it, on the fourth floor! Now these were likely the most luxurious steps of all the steps we encountered on our trip, there were worse. And I was very lucky that my cousin and JT carried my over-packed case all the way up (I’m re-thinking this packing business in the future!).
We ate like kings for the four days in Budapest!

This was our welcome lunch. The Hungarians eat their main meal at noon on weekends. It’s stuffed pork tenderloin with prunes, cooked beets, carrots, mashed potatoes and white asparagus.

A typical “dinner” served anywhere between 6-9pm. Cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes, Hungarian peppers, radishes and fresh bread

My cousin treated the entire family to a evening cruise on the Danube. It was a lovely evening and the lights sparkled like diamonds. It was such a beautiful sight, I would recommend this cruise to everyone, although the dinner cruise is not recommended (we just cruised with a cocktail!).

The Szabadsági Bridge (Freedom Bridge) with an interesting light my camera caught

The very beautiful shoreline with the Independence Monument in the background

The beautiful Parliament Buildings

Our last full day in Budapest, we visited the Castle District (Vár) and Margit Island (Margit Sziget).

Matthias Coronation Church newly restored and sparkling clean

The Fisherman’s Bastion. The story goes that during one of the many Turkish invasions (over several hundred years), the city was divided into different sections to be protected by each trade. This section was protected by the fisherman.

Dancing Fountain on Margit Island

Yes, we did get a lovely day or two in Budapest.

It was nice enough to eat outside. JT took this picture from the back which is a reverse ravine. That’s my cousin Rudi on the far left, my Aunt Ági, my cousin’s wife, Éva and me!

We left early the next morning to drive back to Vienna to catch a flight to Barcelona but not without issues. JT tried to carry too much luggage down and slipped and twisted his ankle (OK it may have been the precarious little rug at the foot of the stairs). We realized in Barcelona that it was indeed a sprain, but after some quick first aid and the purchase of a cane we were back on our way!
The other issue was that we had left 4.5 hours for a 2-3 hour drive and we ended up just barely catching our flight due to some really bad back up just outside of Vienna on the A4 (M1 in Hungary). It was a very anxious trip but we made it.

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