Tag Archives: pasta

En Route to Avignon!

Cloudy, humid and very warm in Ottawa. Leaving behind a city bursting to life with the first tulips and new leaves. My driveway is a carpet of tiny white petals. I will miss my azalea bloom but be back for the lilacs. Scout gave me an affectionate send off. Josie laid on the kitchen floor sighing and doing her best end-of-the-world impression. Smudge refused her treat and isn’t speaking to me. There was a single wet, black nose in the window as we pulled out. Never look back.

Our flight at the civilized hour of 4:55PM, finds people traffic light and we breeze through security. Viking Cruises has done all of the bookings. First class all the way. I’ve never flown in a first class “pod” before. Looking forward to it. Tons of space and leg room, big monitor, full sized pillow, blanket quilt and real food. We are treated to Champagne and orange juice while the rest of the plane boards. Sit back and relax. Later my pod will become a bed.

Dinner in first class includes a choice of wine, including an excellent California cab and a French red, a well presented and very nice light appetizer of a marinated shrimp, paper thin ahi tuna on a bed of fennel dotted with fresh dill, unremarkable mixed greens salad, bland beef tenderloin, distinctly untruffled truffled potatoes, carrots and green beans.

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Rob’s tandoori chicken biriyani was excellent and served with spiced okra.

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A nice complement of cheeses (yes, served chilled, truly roughing it here) grapes, water crackers and port follows the main. Sticky toffee apple cake with lightly sweet whipped cream and tea completed the meal. Much better than anything the plebs in the back of the plane are getting, and quite remarkable for coming out of that tiny galley.

I watch a little TV and then try to sleep for three hours before simulated dawn and breakfast. The pods are certainly more comfortable than a regular airline seat but alas, sleep never comes.

We land in Frankfurt. Every bit the hellhole Rob says, a total zoo. Eventually we get to our gate where we then have to board a bus to take us to our plane. And off we are to Marseille where our trip along two French rivers begins! Our flight path carries us over breathtaking views of the snow capped alps, lovely patchwork landscapes and tiny villages, emerald green pasture, meandering rivers and glacial blue lakes.

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Soon we are over sparkling blue waters and a sea of terracotta roofs. Ancient fixtures rise from the cliffs they are built in to and are visible from the air. Reunited with our luggage and placed in a taxi by Viking reps, we speed off to Avignon to board our ship, The Viking Buri.

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During the hour and fifteen minute trek over well maintained roadways, we breeze through countless roundabouts and are treated to a visual feast that is the Southern French countryside… Past fields of red poppies, yellow and blue wildflowers, sun washed stucco homes with tiled roofs and pretty shutters, vineyards, olive trees, huge, dusty, blue green agaves and sandstone hills dotted with cypress and deep green shrubbery.

Nearing Avignon we notice the ancient ramparts from the 14th century that encompass the old part of the city. Built of local sandstone and pockmarked with age and likely acid rain, they are magnificent. Joggers, moms and infants in strollers, and people catching some sun at lunch hour, carry on their business, bustling about in the ancient shadow. Can’t wait to explore…but we are exhausted. We have been up for over 24 hours now. Luckily, check in is smooth, we are shown to our lovely, spacious and very well designed stateroom, unpack and catch some shut eye. Dancing on a bridge must wait. Tomorrow our adventure begins!

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Dinner this evening will be aboard ship in the main dining room after our muster station drill and welcome orientation in the ship’s lounge. Here we met a lovely couple near in age from Britain, one via Chicago. They have cruised with Viking before and we are immediately comfortable with them. They follow us to dinner and we are seated with what must be the youngest couple on board, thirty somethings from LA. The table turns out to be a great match and conversation lively.

The wine steward has a generous hand while menus are delivered. LA immediately spills an entire glass of water and much laughter ensues. The ice, now broken kickstarts a lovely evening of good food, wine and chatter. Viking offers a surprising number of options for each course. Rob chose the salad Nicoise, determined to stay with the “when in France…” theme. Excellent by all standards.

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I chose the goat cheese souffle, light, tangy, delicious.

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Mains follow at a leisurely pace. Rob chose the lamb with potatoes, elegant with a lamb au jus reduction and deliciously French.

IMG_3152I opted for the pasta with a full, ripe tomato sauce topped with brie.

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For dessert I had an underwhelming chocolate pot de creme with pineapple gelee. Just too sweet after a long day of travel. Rob’s small taste of apple crumble with excellent chocolate ice cream was perfect.

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After cappuccinos, more conversation, the ugly lights come up and we are kicked out. Lovely ending to a loooooong day.FullSizeRender

Chicken, Biscuits & A Plantation

Another scorcher. Our day is planned around the Magnolia Plantation, about which I am very excited. Award winning gardens, open since 1870.

Breakfast is at a Triple D joint, Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe. When we arrive, the lineup is out the door and remains that way through our stay. There is minimal seating inside so I grab the only available table outside. Rob lines up to order. It is about 30 minutes until we get food from this point.

When he comes back he brings two icy Diet Cheerwines, two plates with biscuit sandwiches of fried chicken an a fried egg, smothered in country gravy.

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He also brings a slice of heirloom tomato pie to share. The fried chicken sandwich is excellent, nice biscuit, crunchy chicken, perfect fried egg with a slightly runny yolk and delicious, peppery country gravy.

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The tomato pie is tomato heaven. Made with ripe tomato slices, cheddar cheese piled into a buttery, sourcream  crust and baked to perfection. The pie is accompanied by a gingerbread “crouton”. Curious but delicious. A fine breakfast indeed.

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Bellies full, we make our way out of town to Magnolia Plantation, land that has been in the Drayton family for 12 generations. The plantation is noted for its gardens, camellia collection, plantation home and restored slave quarters. After the civil war and the freeing of the Drayton labour force, the plantation continued to thrive by offering and charging for tours of the extensive gardens. There is also a petting zoo of rescued animals on site.

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I had very much looked forward to this tour. I have never seen a plantation before and this is one of the better ones apparently. However, this is labour day weekend and everyone and his dog decided to check out this historical treasure. This came as a huge surprise to the operators of the plantation. Like, “never before have they been busy on a holiday weekend” surprised.

After a lengthly walk from the auxiliary car parking, we encountered a lineup of Disneyesque proportions. In the scorching sun. We line up expecting to be moved through relatively quickly. Three of six ticket kiosks are open. A couple at one is there for 10 minutes. The line does not move. They averaged 3 minutes or more to accommodate each guest. After an hour in line, under a hot sun in 100 percent humidity, I am basically done by the time we reach the kiosk. We plan to just buy the all-inclusive tickets (or you pay general admission and add each and every tour you want to do) but are told this will take 5-6 hours, not doable on a day like this. We opt for the general admission and 4 of the available tours. “Lets get you signed up.”, the ticket master says! “We can’t get you started on any of the tours until 2:00.” It is currently 12:15. So we go over options. This is what is taking the line so long. They are doing this with each group. Two by two. Most disordered public attraction I have ever encountered. She kept apologizing for the long line. They did not expect this, despite having given out discount coupons for this busy holiday weekend. You’ve been doing this on some level since 1870.

Anyways, we severely curtail what we wanted to see. The heat and humidity are at unbearable levels, even for me who likes the heat. We manage to do a self guided walking tour for a little over an hour. We walked through the gardens which were actually well kept but not very interesting as little to nothing was in flower. We toured the beautiful, leafy conservatory, green with palms, ferns and an occasional potted orchid, with one or two statues. We headed over to the “Big House” where we viewed the grounds, back and front and checked out the crap…I mean, gift shop. We did not go inside the house because we could not get a tour at a reasonable time. It’s online however and quite interesting.

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We paid 2 bucks a pop for off brand bottled water, which they should have been distributing for free due to the line up we were forced to endure due to their incompetence and sat on the porch for some shade with 19-year-old Big House Cat, “Sylvester”.

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Soon after we headed back to our vehicle, which took us past the restored slave quarters. We again did not do the tour of the quarters as the schedule was ridiculous. The interiors are online and again are quite interesting.

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The Magnolia Plantation is a historical treasure and we are sure that had we visited at another time of year when they were more prepared, it was cooler and more of the gardens were in bloom, this would have been the highlight of our trip. As it was, it was a massive disappointment.

Afternoon siesta: required. I love Charleston but this was absolutely the wrong weekend to land here. The city is stinking hot, humid and crowded with tourists for the holiday weekend. I’d like to come back in April.

Tonight we will have our final meal in Charleston at The Fleet Landing. We have 7 pm reservations. When we leave there are people doing an hour and a half wait. This does not speak necessarily to the quality of the food but the fact that the city is so crowded.

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The Fleet Landing is a five minute walk from our hotel. We get there early and have a drink at the bar.

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It’s a good spot to watch food being purveyed around. A live menu. When we are seated we order another round and apps. I order the crab cake. I know, I said I was done with them but this one looked to be good. I was right. It was all lump crab meat, with a bit of mayo, fried with an ultra thin crust,  served on a salad of fresh corn and topped with fried onions that on this evening were a little limp (as is everything in this city at the moment). Good idea, though.

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Rob had the calamari “steak” which was finger sized strips of squid battered and perfectly, crisply fried. Served with two sauces, a sweet Thai and an aioli. Quite delish.

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Beautiful, hot angel biscuits and butter appear. Mmmmm…

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Mains arrive. Seafood fettuccine for me, with three plump scallops, good shrimp, mussels, and crawfish tails in a nice cream sauce. The generous coins of andouille sausage were really good and super spicy with a heat that kept on coming. They do not offer shaved parm but there are a few thin slivers melted on top. Unnecessary really.

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Rob’s main was a fried seafood plate with shrimp, scallops with some Charleston red rice and some creamy coleslaw. First off, the sides were killer. The red rice was smoky and seasoned with just a little zing. The cole slaw was creamy with a bite. The fried shrimp and scallops were a little greasy, which is a first in our experience of the South. Usually, items are fried perfectly. Not so, here. The shrimp were better, but the scallops were not winners. Even so, there was a lot of food, so a lot got left on the plate anyway, but there was not a single grain of that red rice left.

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Goodbye Charleston. Tomorrow we head to Wilmington North Carolina on our way to Washington, DC.

 

Accidental Vegetarian Week

Rob and I  find ourselves eating less meat these days. Not sure we could commit to full time vegetarianism, but we are finding that eating satisfying meatless meals is pretty easy and sacrifice free. When we do include meat, we splurge on high quality, local produce, which has a lower carbon footprint, supports local farmers and tastes better. Every two weeks or so we commit to a meatless menu for the coming week. This is what it looks like:

Monday, is the one night where neither of us has to be anywhere after supper so I usually choose a garlicky menu item. Also known as “Bottle-of-wine Monday”, tonight’s meal will be pasta — Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino or spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili flakes, and a nice Italian red.

The pasta is simple, but flavorful with a bite from the garlic and heat from the red chile. It’s rounded nicely with a grating of parmigiano reggiano, some good olives and a nice chianti.

Tuesday sees a rush at dinner hour. I have kickboxing and get home to three animals who need to be fed, so I usually choose something that I can prepare quickly or ahead of time. This week we are having Paneer and Tomato Curry. For this recipe I quarter 5 of the tomatoes and dice the other three. I add them all at the same time. I substitute garlic and ginger paste, available at any Indian food market, for the garlic and ginger. I find the garlic more mellow and does not repeat. Perfect for a chilly fall day, warm with Indian spices, rich with coconut milk and hearty with paneer, this dish satisfies. Rob stops at our local Indian take out on the way home for naan. You can serve this with basmati rice or grocery store naan, but tandoor-oven naan is really unbeatable. We often freeze the leftovers for another day. This recipe is filling, and satisfying. It’s excellent comfort food for a cold night and truth be told, it’s even better another day after some time in the fridge to let the flavours marry.

Wednesday I am preparing a Cauliflower and Aged White Cheddar Soup. It’s good to try at least one new recipe a week. This was cheesy, delicious. and quite thick. Thin with more broth if you like.

Thursday is quiet for me. No appointments, nowhere to be until 11 pm hockey. So it’s a day I like to cook something that takes a little time, iPod on, Josie at my feet, kitties sleeping on the stairs, something that makes the house smell good and blows raspberries at November weather. This week I’m making a creamy, cheesy, Mushroom Risotto. I use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. The mushrooms and liquid from soaking the dried porcinis makes this dish quite beefy tasting. Like every good risotto, this is creamy, rich and satisfying. The mushrooms provide a meatiness all to themselves.

Friday this week I have chosen something light but elegant that we can open a bottle of wine with and curl up in front of the TV and fire. We are going out to dinner tomorrow at Steven Beckta’s new resto Gezellig, so we will indulge or likely over indulge then. Tonight we will have to be satisfied with Peach and Brie Quesadillas and a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. We used bottled peaches in juice and a white sweet onion instead of red.

I guarantee with a little planning around your schedule, you will be surprised that you can eat very well and not even realize you had no meat. That’s why we call it accidental vegetarian. We choose a recipe because it will be tasty specifically, not because it was vegetarian. That’s just a happy coincidence.

 

Cacio e Pepe

Another glorious, warm summer day in the Capital city inspires me to make a simple, light pasta for tonight’s dinner on the deck. Something a little creamy, not garlicky and goes with a nice rose. Cacio e Pepe, a dish we first encountered in Mario Batali’s now-closed Enoteca San Marco in Las Vegas, is little more than good quality egg pasta, butter, olive oil, pepper and cheese. Actually that’s all it is. And it is delicious.

Pasta is the star of the show so I recommend buying (or making if you are so inclined) fresh egg spaghetti. Italians treat fresh pasta and dry pasta as different ingredients. This dish requires fresh pasta for the sauce to coat perfectly, and it makes all the difference in the world. The simple sauce and eggy pasta will give you happy mouth. It with coat your palate with delicious creaminess and a nice black pepper burn. Such a simple creation that many people would dismiss it out of hand. How tragic for them. Serve with a nice light red or rose and some well chosen olives and voila! Dinner.

Cacio e Pepe
Serves 2

Ingredients:

Fresh egg spaghetti for two
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsps. butter
1 heaping tbsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses (use mostly parmesan in the mix, pecorino is good too if you have it), and some for serving.

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add fresh pasta and cook 3 minutes. Drain.
2. Meanwhile in a large saute pan or skillet, melt two tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil on medium high heat. Add fresh pepper and toast for about 45 seconds. Turn heat to low. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water.
3. Toss cooked pasta with pepper sauce in pan. Add final tablespoon of butter and cheeses. Toss. Add reserved pasta water to loosen if desired.
4. Serve immediately.

Serve on a sun-drenched deck or garden patio with a dry rose and olives. Pretend you are in Roma.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.

 

 

The Dish: Amazing Tomato Sauce!

In the winter, we buy good canned tomatoes, in whole and crushed and sauce form because good, fresh tomatoes are nowhere to be found. Recently in a local gourmet store, we happened upon a small, stubby bottle of cherry tomato sauce, made in Italy by Agromonte. It looked just like the old stubby beer bottles and it even had a pop top.

We opened it several weeks later to make pizza and couldn’t believe how alive the sauce was with fresh cherry tomato flavour. It’s sweet, with a little acid and needed no dressing up at all. It made for amazing pizza sauce. Unfortunately, enough time had passed between buying this bottle and us using it, that we had forgotten where we bought it. We looked many places on our usual rounds and happened upon it at the Herb and Spice in Westboro on Wellington. I’m pretty sure that’s not where we got it originally, but we’re very happy to have found it again. We bought 6 bottles of the stuff and have since used it in simple spaghetti and pasta dishes with consistently terrific results.