Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fantastic Italian Villages

The Trout here, wanting to share our short trip into Italy this fall.  

While planning our SE France trip for last October, I came across a great blog about the Nice area by Kevin Hin titled French  Riviera Blog.  One of his suggested side trips was a short drive to the NerviaValley just inside the Italian border above Ventimiglia.  Four wonderful hillside villages are located in the valley within easy driving distance of each other.

The first village is Dolceacqua with its famous bridge Ponte Romano leading from the modern side of the village into the old village.  The  bridge was a favorite scene for Monet to paint way back when.  There is an old castle in ruins above the village.

Once inside the old village, both Susan and I commented on how enclosed the passages felt.  Ghostly silent also, with very narrow passages leading upward to homes with bridges connecting each side of the passages.  We wondered how it would be to live in such a  seemingly  confined space with little light and warm air.

Next came the village of Rocchetta Nervinia which seemed to cling precariously to the hillside above the bubbling stream below.  It too had very narrow and dark passages within the village with that ghostly feeling of silence and closed in existence for its residents.

The other villages are Isolabona and probably the most spectacular of all, Apricale.  Please visit Kevin's blog  for some incredible pictures of these villages.  We didn't want to challenge the narrow curvy road to either so we left them for another time, hopefully to stay a couple of days in a lovely B&B to experience how it is to live in such a quaint setting.  Probably much more cheerful than we now imagine.

We have enjoyed so many villages all over Europe but these just have that unbelievable medieval feeling about them and how hard life must have been at times as these villages were started and added to.
But the valley produces its own unique red wine called Rossese as well as olive oil which we enjoyed at a nice lunch in Dolceaqua.  Another world we discovered!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from our house to yours

Love, Schnitzel and the Trout

Friday, December 14, 2012

Giveaway winner is announced!!

The giveaway winner is announced and it is Karen from Karen Cooks.  Karen send me your address and I will get it to Cathy and the hazelnuts will be on their way.  Thanks for participating.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hazelnut Torte and a Giveaway

When blogger friend, Cathy,  Wives with Knivesadded a "store" to her blog, I was excited.  I knew for years that Cathy owns "The Bavarian Nut Company" in her native Oregon.  Hazelnuts are in her store, so I knew I would have to have some.  I have never lived where they are readily available year-round, so this was a treat.

I remember my grandmother using hazelnuts in her holiday baking, though I was not able to find any of her recipes.  So I did a search, ended up combining several recipes, and came up with my own, so am giving no credit for this recipe.  I will still be working on perfection, but the taste is so good, perhaps looks don't always count.

I ordered both hazelnut flour/meal and whole hazelnuts.  I made two layers of cake.  I halved the recipe and made one layer with whole hazelnuts that I ground and one layer using the the hazelnut meal/flour.  The whole hazelnuts that I ground up made a much lighter layer.  The meal/flour layer seemed a little more "sticky" and dense.  I baked each batter in a 9 inch round cake pan.  In retrospect, I would have used 3 cake pans instead of get the picture.  Because of wanting the batter to be separate, I forged ahead.

I decided to add a layer of apricot jam to the top of each layer.  I then added a spread of chocolate ganache between the layers, on top and down the sides.  I had a little trouble controlling the ganache, getting it to the right consistency.  It is 80 degrees today in Florida, the air conditioning is on.  The cake now sits in the refrigerator.  The ganache is stiffening.  sigh.  Still, it really does taste great.  Of course, a small glass of Frangelico goes nicely with it also.

Hazelnut Torte

2 cups hazelnuts, ground
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons flour
8 eggs

Line the bottom of 3 round 9" cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the pans including the parchment paper on the bottoms.  Preheat over to 350 degrees F.

In food processor, blend the hazelnuts, sugar, flour and baking powder until the nuts are finely ground into a powder-like consistency and until everything is blended well.

Add 8 eggs and process well.

Pour into the cake pans.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then remove the cake layers to a cooling rack.

Ganache Frosting

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/2 pound finely chopped semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar and corn syrup to a boil over low moderate heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until the chocolate is melted.  Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

After the ganache has cooled and slightly thickened, spread over the first layer of cake and continue adding the layers.  Spread the frosting on top and over the sides of the cake.

In the photo above, the hazelnut meal/flour is the bottom layer and the hazelnuts that I ground are in the top layer.  Either would work.  I am so happy that Cathy offers such wonderful treats in her store.  While shopping there, please be sure to pick up some of her Bavarian Roasted nuts.  I can definitely cheer for the almonds!!!

Now here is the good news!  Cathy at Wives with Knives has graciously offered a giveaway of a bag of her wonderful cinnamon almonds and a bag of hazelnut flour/meal.  All you have to do is run over to her store and come back here and leave a comment and tell me what you like best from her Bavarian Nut Store, and you will be entered. This giveaway will close at 5 p.m. EST on Friday, December 14.  This will give Cathy time to mail your treats before Christmas.  Hurry on over now to The Bavarian Nut Company. 

The Bavarian Nut Company

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spice up the Garbanzo beans

Several times in the last few years, while dining in southern France, an appetizer has been placed on the table as soon as we arrive.  It happened again on this last trip, and this time I decided I needed to make this at home to go with afternoon cocktails.

It is so simple, so messy, but so darn good, and possibly a little healthy?  These little morsels are positively additive.  Absolutely love the taste!!

So my simple recipe is this:  Empty a can of garbanzo beans or chick peas.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Pat the beans dry and add a small amount of olive oil.  Then add curry.  Judge by the color and taste as to how much you want to add.  I added simple curry powder and then some red curry which has a little more kick.  Mix together, chill and serve in a small bowl.  Toothpicks won't work, so simply use fingers and napkins.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

La Salle à Manger in Provence

It was October 31.  Provence was having a cool spell with rain.  The Trout and I were looking for a wonderful place for lunch.  We came upon the village of Flayosc.  A few restaurants were open, but we liked what we saw through the window and the menu which was posted outside this little restaurant.   We closed our umbrellas and entered a very charming room.

We were immediately greeted by the host of Restaurant "La Salle à Manger," Ronald Abbink.  In perfect English, he welcomed us and seated us by the window.  Robert and his wife, the chef, Liesbeth,  came from Holland and today was the 11th anniversary of opening this restaurant.

We were served amuse buche which was a warm strip of beef wrapped around a sage leave.  Outstanding.  Eaten so quickly, no photo.

Ordering was difficult because we wanted it all.  But, I have to say, the first course was the most outstanding we have ever experience.

What you see above is an absolutely delicious mushroom soup.  First he brought out a hot bowl with hot sauteed mushrooms, a slice of foie gras and a spoonful of marscapone cheese.  Then the magic.  He brought out a clear glass teapot with boiling hot beef broth which he poured over the bowl contents.  Absolutely delicious!  As the foie gras and marscapone melted, it added a delicious "fat" to the soup.  This, by far, has been one of the most outstanding presentations ever.

In the foreground you see The Trout's duck breast with confit in a red wine, grape and fig sauce.  This was accompanied with potatoes baked with a cheese, perhaps like Comte.  Absolutely delicious!

My main course was monk fish on a bed of lentils with a mushroom cream sauce.  Absolutely delicious!  Love French lentils and brought some home with me on this trip.

Now you are thinking, how could these people possibly eat dessert.  Well, when in France, it is really possible.

The Trout had a beautiful slate plate of different cheese from France.  Quite often you will have a choice; cheese or dessert.  Well, if you know me at all, it has to be dessert!

Oh yes, a most perfect poached pear partially wrapped in baked pastry along with a dipper of pear sorbet.  Absolutely delicious, but I think I have said this once or twice before on this post.

We enjoyed a glass of red wine each with this meal as we had miles to go before we got back "home."  This was such a outstanding meal with the most wonderful and friendly people who own this restaurant.  Since the day was rainy and we were the only guests this day, even the chef came out of the kitchen to welcome us and we were able to thank her personally for a perfect meal.

Quite honestly, this is the main reason we love France so much.  The food and the wonderful people we meet.  This will forever remain as a most memorable meal.  I do hope, in your travels to France, you will look for the village of Flayosc in Provence and Restaurant "La Salle à Manger" at 9 Place de la République.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Moules and Frites

I think I can honestly say, if I were fortunate enough to select my "last meal," I would choose Moules and Frites.  I ate them in the small town of Vence in Provence just last month.  I ate them another time on our 3 week trip.

Moules and Frites in a restaurant in Vence, Provence

I have eaten them  twice since coming home; the last time being tonight.  I absolutely love them.

We have tried several recipes in the past, but we sort of made up our own which works great for us.  This is what we do.

Moules and Frites

Oven-Bakes Fries

4-5 potatoes, Yukon gold or russets, cut into 1/2 inch sticks with skin on
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Cut potatoes into 1/2" sticks and soak in cold water for 5-10 minutes.

Remove from water and place in large pot with cold water, cover and put over high heat until water begins to simmer.  Cook potatoes for 2-3 minutes or until almost cooked through.  Do not overcook.  Drain and place on paper towels to drain.

Put olive oil on a baking sheet, add potatoes and toss with hands until the potatoes are covered.  Can add more olive oil if necessary.  Spread out evenly on baking sheet and salt and pepper.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until fries are crispy and light brown.  Remove from oven, salt and pepper more to taste.  Serve immediately.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, finely minced
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
several shakes of red pepper flakes
3/4 cups white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds cleaned and de-bearded mussels
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped.
salt and pepper

Heat butter and oil in large cooking pot (Dutch oven) over medium high heat.  Add minced shallots, garlic, and pepper flakes, and stir frequently until soft.

Add white wine and bring to boil.  Add cream and add mussels to pot and cover with lid.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until mussels open.  Discard any mussels that do not open.  Stir in chopped parsley and season to taste.  Serve immediately.  Dip crusty bread into the broth or simply eat it with a spoon.  So delicious.

In November 2001, The Trout and I had our first trip to Paris.  We found a cozy restaurant one evening and sat at a table  for dinner.  As often happens in a foreign country, the best entertainment comes from the table beside you.  More than once we have entered into conversations with fellow diners.  But, this evening, no conversation was exchanged, but we learned the correct way to eat mussels.

A middle-aged gentlemen in a suit, with briefcase, sat down at a table for one.  Immediately we are thinking...he has just finished his day in the office and wants a nice bite to eat before going home.  We watch as he orders moules and frites.  Very carefully, he took his fork to grasp the first mussel out of the shell.  He then used that shell to pinch the rest of the mussels out of their shells.  So clever and so easy.  We have been eating our mussels like that ever since.  See photo below.

On the right I am holding the mussel and the left sided mussel is pinching it out of the shell.  I know I am really going over and beyond what many of you may want to know, but I just wanted to share what we learned one cold evening in a small bistro in Paris, many years ago.  My favorite meal......