Blog

Chicken Tikka Masala In Brighton, UK

Brighton (a)  - 44.jpg

The British fondness for Indian food goes back a long way: London coffee houses were serving curries as early as the the mid-eighteenth century. The first full-fledged Indian restaurant opened in 1810, owned and run by an enterprising immigrant, Dean Mahomed.
Dean Mahomed was born in India where his father was employed by the British East India Company. After his father's death he accompanied a British officer back to England where he was educated.

London (a)  - 111.jpg

Adding the title of Sheikh (spelled Sake) to his name, he opened the Hindoostanee Coffee House near London's Portman Square, with Indian furnishings, hookas for smoking and serving a wide range of Indian dishes. Unfortunately he discovered that he had opened his restaurant before the market was ready, and was forced to close down after only a year of operation.

Not a man to be discouraged by failure Sake Dean Mahomed moved to the town of Brighton, then becoming popular as the first sea-side resort in the world. The rich and fashionable flocked to Brighton to spend summers at the beach and take the water-cures that were growing extremely popular.

Brighton (a)  - 68.jpg

The Prince Regent, later to become King George IV, built himself a palace there, the Brighton Pavilion, and indulging the period's fascination for Asian exotica had it designed with a fanciful Indian exterior and an equally flamboyant Chinese interior. 

When Dean Mahomed arrived in this rapidly expanding town he set up steam baths in a building that still stands on the Brighton waterfront and now houses the Queens Hotel. He offered head massages, known in Hindi as "champi", and they proved an instant hit, introducing the word "shampoo" into the English language. Styling himself as a "shampooing surgeon" Dean Mahomed built steam baths in the royal palace and became a favourite of the Prince Regent. He prospered for many years in Brighton, wrote his memoirs (which made him the first Indian to publish a book in English) and is buried there.

Brighton (a)  - 50.jpg

It was over a century after Dean Mahomed's ill-fated attempt that another Indian restaurant  opened in England. Since then, however, the popularity of Indian cuisine has exploded. Curry has been voted England's national dish and you can buy t-shirts in tourist shops that proclaim "Keep Curry British!".  

 

 

Dean Mahomed never did open a restaurant in Brighton but you can find many good Indian eateries here these days.
Our favourite was the Curry Leaf Cafe in Brighton Lanes as well as some great takeaway places including Taj, a wonderful Asian grocery store carrying a large variety of fresh cooked biryanis, curries and kababs.

2017-11-11-PHOTO-00001822.jpg

Chicken Tikka Masala is a British favourite that is said to have originated in that country.  A popular legend claims it was accidentally created in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow: when a customer sent back a plate of tandoori chicken tikka for being too dry, the crafty chef promptly doused it in a sauce of spiced up creamy tomato soup and a legendary dish was born! While the origin of chicken tikka masala is still hotly debated, we were just happy to eat it on a regular basis during our visit! Try making my recipe, it is so easy and satisfying, you'll never order take out again. 

Chicken Tikka Masala

For the marinade:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: coriander, cumin, garam masala, cayenne pepper, paprika, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), fennel (optional)

For the sauce:

2 tsp oil

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or minced

1 can (28 oz or 796 ml) whole plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), pureed in food processor

Salt to taste

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 cup full fat whipping or heavy cream

2 tbsp each: butter, chopped fresh coriander leaves

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Add to a deep mixing bowl, along with the oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 15 min and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread chicken evenly on tray, spooning on any remaining marinade and bake for 10 min. Chicken will not be fully cooked at this point. Reserve chicken and all its juices.

To make the sauce, warm 2 tbsp oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds. After 30 sec, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for 5 - 7 min until softened and lightly browned.

Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Stir to mix and cook for 5 min until tomatoes are slightly thickened.

Add 1 cup of water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook sauce for 10 min.

Mix in the cream, butter and fresh coriander, cook 1 min. Add the reserved chicken and all of the accumulated juices, mixing well into the sauce. Cover and cook again on low heat for 10 min.

Serve right away.

Serves four

Brighton (a)  - 30.jpg

Spicy Chicken Keema In London

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" said Samuel Johnson over three centuries ago, and that observation still rings true today.

London (a)  - 121.jpg

It was thirty years ago that my husband and I first visited London. Fresh out of India, this was our first glimpse of a wonderful city that we had only read about. For three magical days we explored every corner of London, walking till our feet hurt and sampling all the amazing food that was completely new to us. It was only recently that we got the chance to visit once more, and it was magic all over again as we explored and rediscovered all that London has to offer.

London is a great city for walking, with its historical core being surprisingly compact. You can, in theory, cross it on foot in a few hours, but it usually takes longer in reality because there are always little surprises that grab your attention and make you linger. 

There is something in London for everyone, no matter what your interests may be. Every step that you take in London takes you past a site where history was created. The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament are places that seem familiar even to people who may have never visited London before, simply from having read about them.

One of the greatest joys of being a tourist in London are the fabulous museums and galleries that you can visit free of cost. The British Museum and the National Gallery house some of the greatest treasures and works of art that the world has to offer. And when you have had your fill of looking at art, many of the churches offer musical recitals that are a delight to listen to. 

A tour of London is just not complete until you've walked through some of its lovely, sprawling parks. No matter which part of the city you happen to be in, there is sure to be a park nearby with large shady trees, a convenient bench or beautiful green lawns just inviting you to rest your feet and grab a picnic!

One of my favourites was St. James's park with its tranquil lakes and fountains, glorious flower beds, lots of interesting birds and fabulous views of the city from it's famous Blue Bridge. Hyde park, with its long walking trails, the Serpentine river running through it, Victoria and Albert Memorial at one end and the famous Speaker's Corner where protests and rallies still take place was another memorable park to visit.

When it comes to eating out in London, you are going to be spoilt for choice! With restaurants serving every cuisine under the sun, you can have something different every day. Among the standouts we tried out were Veeraswamy for classic Indian, Hoppers for fantastic Sri Lankan, Berber & Q for smoky, grilled Middle Eastern fare, The Clerk And Well for incredible Asian dishes and practically every pub offering an amazing variety of meat pies, fish and chips and sausages. 

London (d) - 29.jpg

We first had this delicious chicken keema with its phenomenal mix of flavours and textures at the very popular Dishoom Bombay Cafe in London. Head here for sunday brunch when they have a special menu reflecting typical Indian breakfast dishes, with creative British twists. I still dream of their masala baked beans in tomato sauce with fresh coriander!

DSC_1443.jpg

I just love how the flavours of the soft gooey egg nestled in spicy chicken keema meld with the crunch of potato straws and crisp fresh coriander. The apricots add just a hint of delicate sweetness to the whole dish. You can buy potato straws from any supermarket or you can make your own spiralized ones in the oven. Whatever you do, don't skip them! Serve with warm naan or fresh dinner rolls.

Spicy Chicken Keema With Fried Eggs And Potato Straws

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or finely chopped

4 large canned plum tomatoes, pureed

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 lb ground chicken (not breast meat)

4 soft dried, pitted apricots, halved

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 freshly fried eggs with runny yolks

1 cup fried or baked potato straws

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for about 5-7 min until onions are softened and lightly browned.

Add tomatoes, continue to cook for 5 min until tomatoes are incorporated into the sauce.

Add salt and all the spices, cook 1 min.

Add chicken and stir until it is blended into the sauce with no lumps remaining.

Add the apricots and 1/2 cup of water. Mix well, cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Uncover skillet and cook for a further 15 min until sauce is thickened and chicken cooked. If you want a thicker sauce, turn up the heat to medium to boil off some of the liquid.

Fold in the fresh coriander and lemon juice to brighten up the flavours.

Divide chicken keema evenly into 4 bowls. Top with a fried egg and scatter potato straws evenly over top.

Serve right away.

Serves four

London (d) - 3.jpg

Lamb Burgers With Feta Skyr Sauce In Iceland

Icelandic history tells us that the first person to settle in that country was a Norwegian clan chief, Ingólfr Arnarson, who brought his family to what is now the site of the city of Reykjavik in 874. At the time it must have felt like one of the remotest corners of the world, and even today when you travel through much of Iceland it feels as if no people have ever set foot there before you. The landscape seems much more suited for the giants and trolls that populate Icelandic sagas than ordinary human beings.

Iceland  - 93.jpg

All over Iceland volcanoes belch fire and lava while steam rises from vents in the ground. The island lies along the junction of some of the earth's great tectonic plates, and huge rifts appear in the ground which shift when earthquakes occur. Giant waterfalls thunder over dizzyingly high cliffs, throwing up a mist that drifts across the surroundings. The landscape is one of stunning beauty, with rolling green meadows through which rivers wind.

Many of the fearsome Vikings whose depredations terrified Europe for centuries set sail from Iceland, raiding along the coasts of England and France. It was not until the 12th century when Christianity was finally widely accepted across the Scandinavian countries that the ferocious raids finally ceased.

Þingvellir is the site where the Viking clans would meet each year, starting in 930, and make decisions. It is today celebrated as the site of the oldest parliament in the world and is a major tourist attraction in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley, with towering rock cliffs on both sides, and you can still see the sites of old cabins that were built and rebuilt centuries ago on the same locations every year.

Iceland is famous for its geysers, some of which erupt frequently and throw up steam and hot water tens of meters up into the air each time. It is a remarkable sight to see a pool of water bubble gently and then, all of a sudden, roar and throw up a massive plume before subsiding again.

The countryside is dotted with small family run farms, nestled among the mountains. Magnificent Icelandic horses with shaggy manes run playfully in the fields, while cows and sheep graze peacefully nearby. The scene is so idyllic and picturesque that you can stop your car by the deserted roadside and take as many photos as you want!

On our recent trip, we stopped off for lunch at Efstidalur II, a popular farm and B&B. Not only is the scenery around the farm stunning, the food is memorable too. Famous for their home made ice cream and burgers, the place is well worth a stop. We had their incredible house made skyr sauce with our burgers and might never go back to using mayo again!

The feta skyr sauce in this recipe is easy to make and versatile to use. The salty, tart flavours of the sauce go well with the lamb burger. It makes a great salad dressing too and can be thinned out with a little buttermilk if desired. If you wish, you can substitute mint in place of the dill. If you'd like an alternative to lamb burgers, try spicy Masala chicken burgers

Lamb Burgers With Feta Skyr Sauce

Feta Skyr Sauce:

1/4 cup each: crumbled feta, plain skyr or Greek yogurt

1 tbsp each: lemon juice, chopped fresh dill

Salt and pepper to taste

Lamb Burgers:

1 lb ground lamb

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 cup each, finely chopped: red onions, fresh parsley

4 hamburger buns or Kaiser rolls, sliced horizontally in half

Toppings:

Fresh leaf lettuce

Sliced ripe tomatoes

Sliced red onions

Sliced cheese (optional)

To make skyr sauce, combine all sauce ingredients together in small mixing bowl. Mash well with a fork to blend. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Combine all burger ingredients in large mixing bowl, mixing well with your hands to incorporate. Divide into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a thick patty, flattening it to fit the size of the bun.

To cook burgers, either grill them on a medium hot barbecue or pan fry them in a skillet over medium heat until done to your liking.

To assemble burgers, evenly spread the feta skyr sauce on top and bottom halves of all the buns. Line bottom halves with lettuce leaves. Place a cooked lamb burger patty over lettuce. Top with cheese (if using), tomato and red onion. Cover with top halves of the buns.

Serves four

Lamb Soup With Roasted Root Vegetables In Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, the biggest city in Iceland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Despite having two thirds of the country's population residing here, Reykjavik manages to retain a quaint, small town charm.
Reykjavik's founding is remarkably well documented, with the names and stories of the first Norse settlers who arrived here in the 9th century meticulously recorded. However, it was only in the 19th century, when it became Iceland's seat of government, that it began to outgrow its origins as a farming settlement and started to become a real town. 

Today Reykjavik has become one of the most visited cities in Europe, with millions of tourists arriving to experience the city's vibrant nightlife and see the stunning beauty of the sea and land surrounding it. The biggest landmark in the city, visible wherever you are, is the Hallgrímskirka church. From there you can walk through most of the compact old city, whose streets are still named for the old Norse gods: Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya. The heart of Reykjavik is centered around a pretty little lake surrounded by churches and buildings, which is a great place to watch birds that land on the water or to feed the ducks that make it their home.

Reykjavik harbour, from which Viking ships set sail a thousand years ago on the raids that terrified all of Europe, is today a great place to stroll. The boats sailing out no longer carry fearsome warriors but rather tourists eager to see whales and puffins. The old fishing sheds and boat repair shops have been converted into trendy cafes, craft breweries and boutiques, which are always thronging with tourists.

Icelandic cuisine is all about local seafood, pasture raised lamb and dairy - especially Skyr, a type of thick, creamy, almost cheesy yogurt which, once tasted is utterly unforgettable and addictive! Icelandic chefs get wonderfully creative in cooking the incredible variety of seafood that abounds in the Arctic waters around. And with a slogan that proudly proclaims "Icelandic Lamb - roaming free since 878", you know it's going to be very good! Since the sheep nibble on grass and herbs all summer long, the meat is lean and uniquely flavoured.

We ate buttery tender local lamb every chance we got, in Reykjavik restaurants, in hugely popular hot dogs, in burgers and our favourite - in smoked lamb sandwiches.
Icelandic lamb soup is a very old and traditional dish, showcasing the best of cold weather cooking with simple ingredients. We happened upon it quite by chance at a small restaurant attached to a gas station in the middle of (seemingly) nowhere. The soup was warming and especially satisfying when eaten in front of a breathtaking view of mountains! 

DSC_0042.jpg

The delicate flavour of herbs mingled with the sweetness of roasted root vegetables comes through in every spoonful of this simple, satisfying soup. Roasting intensifies the inherent sweetness of the vegetables but if you're in a hurry, you can skip that step. Serve with lots of crusty baguette to make a meal of it!

Lamb Soup With Roasted Root Vegetables

4 tbsp oil, divided

1 heaping cup each, peeled vegetable chunks: parsnip, turnip, potato, carrot

4 cloves garlic, halved through the middle

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large sprig each, fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary

2 lb bone in lamb cubes or shanks

900 ml chicken broth

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 450F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine 2 tbsp oil, vegetable chunks, garlic and salt and pepper to taste in large mixing bowl. Spread in an even layer on baking tray. Bake for 30 min or until vegetables are lightly golden and almost tender. Reserve.

Meanwhile, warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep saucepan over medium heat.

Add onion, thyme and rosemary. Saute 5 min until slightly softened.

Add lamb and brown for 5 min.

Add broth and more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a gentle boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add reserved roasted vegetables, cover and cook again until they are very soft and lamb is very tender, about 1 hour or longer.

Cool and remove meat from bones, discarding bones. Discard thyme and rosemary sprigs as well.

If desired, refrigerate soup overnight and skim off all the fat from the top.

Warm soup before serving and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serves four

Roast Potatoes In Düsseldorf, Germany

A visit to Düsseldorf never disappoints. This city has so much to offer with it's charm, elegance, high fashion, good food and local beer. Add museums, historic churches, a vibrant waterfront  and you've got enough to keep you busy for days!

Dusseldorf - 23.jpg

Düsseldorf's delightful Altstadt or old town nestles by the waterfront, overlooking the Rhine river that is the lifeblood of the city. Stroll along narrow, cobbled streets as you explore shops, restaurants and bars. Nearby is the broad expanse of the waterfront with a tree lined promenade for walks along the river. The riverfront is also lined with more bars, creating an especially lively, boisterous scene on summer weekend evenings! 

Düsseldorf is Germany's fashion capital and its main shopping street, the Königsallee or Kö for short, is where you find it. Here you can window shop or wander inside for some high end designer shopping. With a lovely, huge park at one end and a beautifully landscaped canal running through its centre, the Kö is a great place to fritter away an afternoon.

And if all this exploring tires you out, step into one of Düsseldorf's beer halls to revive yourself. Often dating back several centuries, these legendary establishments are brimming with beer and bonhomie. Some of the historic, well known ones have been brewing from their own secret recipe for generations and are very atmospheric inside.

It is impressive to see servers balancing huge trays of beer glasses in one hand, held high over diner's heads as they weave their way through the crowd. Empty glasses are plucked up as soon as they are set down, replaced unasked with a full one, with a running tally pencilled on the paper coaster beneath. Ask for a glass of wine like I did, and you're going to get a very disgusted look!
Beer hall food is all about sausages, meats and potatoes, served in hearty proportions. Better not eat here if you're looking for healthier vegetarian fare! Potatoes in roasted or mashed form are usually a delectable part of every meal.

These are not your everyday roast potatoes (although we did eat them almost every day in Germany!). They have so much flavour to them thanks to the mustard, bacon, vinegar and herbs, that they would go well with practically anything. 
Try more easy, delicious German style recipes such as Roasted smashed garlic potatoes or Currywurst  

German Style Roast Potatoes

1 lb small potatoes (in assorted colours if possible)

3 tbsp oil, divided

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 tsp grainy Dijon mustard

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Wash, scrub and halve potatoes, leaving the peel on. Toss with 2 tbsp oil, salt and pepper. Spread on tray. Bake for 30 min or until soft and lightly browned. Switch off oven and let potatoes continue to roast in it's fading heat for another 10 min.

Warm remaining 1 tbsp oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bacon. Cook 7-8 min until onions are softened and bacon is rendering it's fat.

Add roasted potatoes and continue cooking for another 10 min until potatoes are lightly crispy in the bacon fat.

Add mustard, vinegar and parsley. Cook for 2 min, then transfer to a serving bowl.

Serves four

Dusseldorf - 46.jpg

Goulash Soup In Cologne, Germany

Cologne - 19.jpg

One of the greatest attractions of visiting Cologne is its magnificent Gothic cathedral. Its soaring spires can be seen from a great distance, long before you enter the city. Take the train in as we did, and you will be overwhelmed by the sheer size of this imposing cathedral as it towers right above the station!

We marvelled at the beautiful filigree designs, intricate carvings and impressive main doors of the building as we made our way inside. Started in 1248, this cathedral is a World Heritage site and one of Germany's most visited places. Inside, amongst its many treasures, is the reliquary of the Three Kings which is believed to hold the remains of the three wise men who bore gifts for the infant Jesus. These holy relics made Cologne one of the  greatest pilgrimage sites in medieval Europe and spread the fame of the cathedral across the continent. 

Cologne's magnificent cathedral is only one of the reasons people flock to this vibrant city. With museums to explore, a lively nightlife and lots of restaurants, bars and cafes, there is never a dull moment here! We loved exploring the Altstadt or old town, with it's atmospheric medieval streets, historic buildings and boisterous beer halls. Try and visit on a weekend when It gets especially fun and lively!

A stroll along the bustling waterfront, lined with picturesque old buildings and parks, thrumming with street musicians and artists is a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. Here you can people watch to your heart's content while sipping on something restorative and see ships glide by on the nearby Rhine river.

Cologne - 40.jpg

We had a delicious bowl of goulash soup here one crisp afternoon during our recent visit. Goulash soup, with it's warming, comforting flavours is perfect for colder weather. In Germany, it can vary from being thick and almost stew-like to a thinner, soupier version. However you choose to make it, make sure to serve some crusty bread on the side!

DSC_0029.jpg

The smoky notes from the bacon, roasted pepper, toasted caraway and smoked paprika, along with the red wine add depth and richness to this hearty stew-like soup. Serve with a dollop of sour cream for extra richness!
For another variation of this dish, try Hungarian style Goulash

 Goulash Soup

2 tbsp oil

2 medium onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large sprig thyme

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and chopped

1 sweet red pepper (roasted or fresh), chopped

1-1/2 lb boneless stewing beef, cubed into bite sized pieces

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1 cup red wine

2 cups beef broth

4 large juicy plum tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 tsp each: smoked paprika, sweet paprika, oregano, toasted ground caraway or cumin seeds, sugar

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh parsley, red wine vinegar

Warm oil in deep saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, bacon, carrot, celery, potato and sweet pepper. Saute for 10 min until bacon has rendered its fat and vegetables are softened.

Add beef cubes and brown for 5 min. Add flour, stirring to incorporate, about 30 sec.

Add red wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add broth, tomatoes, salt and pepper as well as all the spices and sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

The vegetables should be practically disintegrating into the soup and the meat should be fork tender at this point. If soup is too thin, uncover, increase heat to medium and boil off some of the extra broth. Remove thyme sprig.

Mix in the vinegar and fresh parsley and serve.

Serves four

Cologne - 29.jpg

Apple Cardamom Muffins In Ontario, Canada

Algonquin Park - 34.jpg

Fall is our favourite time of year, with changing colours transforming ordinary landscapes into brilliant works of art. Leaves in glowing reds, shimmering oranges and pale yellows adorn the trees, making a long, leisurely drive into the countryside one of the highlights of this season.

This year, unseasonably warm weather slowed the progress of Fall and dimmed the colours on the trees, making our scenic road trips a little less vibrant. On the other hand, this meant that we could still sit outside on a restaurant patio by the water, watch sailboats pull into the marina, and enjoy a fresh seafood lunch in the sun!

Presqu'ile - 26.jpg

The sandy beaches and warm waters of Lake Ontario beckoned to us on an unusually hot day recently and we headed off to Presqu'ile Provincial Park for a day of sun, sand and hiking.

This park has lovely, long, shallow sandy beaches, lots of great hiking trails and one of the oldest lighthouses in the region. It is a nice day trip out of Toronto, if you want to get away from it all.

On the way, we stopped at The Big Apple, a huge bakery, restaurant and farm market which is visible all the way from the highway. We came home armed with a delicious medley of apples and jugs of fresh apple cider. The apples were crisp and slightly tart - perfect to eat and cook with!

If you love cooking with apples, try these easy apple muffins. Loaded with chunks of fruit and delicately scented with cardamom, they are great for breakfast. Or, pair them with home made Saffron Rosewater Ice cream and wow your guests with an unforgettable dessert!

Apple Cardamom Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup each: granulated white sugar, brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla essence

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup apple cider

2 apples, peeled, cored and diced into very small pieces (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup Demerara sugar for sprinkling, optional

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with muffin cups or spray lightly with cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking powder and ground cardamom in mixing bowl.

Combine butter and sugars in separate large mixing bowl with hand blender.

Add eggs, beating lightly after each addition.

Mix in vanilla.

Add the flour mixture in 1/4 cup segments, alternating with the milk.

Add the apple cider at the end and mix well to blend.

Fold in the apple pieces with a spatula, mixing them into the batter.

Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin pan and lightly sprinkle tops with demerara sugar, if using.

Bake for 30 min or until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.

Let muffins rest for 10 min, then serve warm. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate any leftover muffins.

Makes 12 Muffins

 

Algonquin Park - 20.jpg

Chèvre Omelettes In Chambord, Loire valley, France

The Château of Chambord is by far the biggest of the historic palaces in the Loire valley, with an elaborate facade bristling with chimneys, towers and turrets that make it look like a cluster of houses rather than a single building. Careful observation shows that each feature is unique, carefully positioned to ensure that there is no symmetry in the building.

Chambord was originally built in the sixteenth century as a hunting lodge for King François I, who made only a few brief visits to it. It is believed that part of the building was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, a guest of the king at that time in nearby Amboise.

Chambord was almost abandoned after the death of the king, and it was not until a century later that it became a royal residence again. For years it served as a hunting lodge, before passing into the possession of other members of the royal family who occupied it year around and expanded it to its current sprawling size.

The château is famous for its extensive gardens that stretch out for miles. The lawns surrounding the main building have been carefully trimmed in such exquisite patterns that they appear to have been painted on rather than grown. Chambord remained one of the largest palaces in France until Louis XIV decided to expand another of his hunting lodges, at Versailles, and convert it into a spectacular residence that nobody in Europe has ever outdone.

If you visit the Loire Valley, be sure to taste some of the famous fromage de Chèvre (goat cheese) that is a specialty of this region. From the soft, crumbly, creamy version to the aged, firmer variety and so many more in between, Chèvre is always included in the cheese course at the end of a meal and also used in many creative ways in local cuisine. We often started our day with a delicious, fluffy Chèvre omelette and if you follow my easy recipe below, you can too!

DSC_0042.jpg

You can play around with this recipe and add spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes or thyme. Throw in a bowl of French Onion Soup and you may as well be in France!

Chèvre Omelette With Chives

3 eggs

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 tbsp each: milk or cream, chopped fresh chives, unsalted butter, crumbled goat cheese (at room temperature)

Beat eggs with a whisk or fork until well combined and light in colour, about 2 min.

Add salt, pepper and milk or cream. Beat again to combine, 1 min. Fold in 1 tbsp of the chives.

Melt butter in large frying pan set over medium heat, swirling pan to distribute butter evenly.

Pour egg mixture into pan, tilting it to spread evenly. Once the edges have set lightly, push them in slightly and tip skillet to let uncooked portion of the egg run underneath.

Sprinkle goat cheese evenly over top. Cover skillet with a lid to melt cheese, about 1 min.

When omelette is cooked, fold it in half and slide it onto a plate. Garnish with remaining 1 tbsp chives.

Serves one-two

Chambord - 35.jpg

Moules Marinières In The Loire Valley, France

Chinon - 28.jpg

The Château of Chinon stands on the banks of the river Vienne, encircled by vineyards that produce the wines for which the region is famous. Gazing at these tranquil surroundings it is hard to imagine that this was the location of some of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, which played a decisive role in determining the fate of medieval France and England.

Chinon was the principal residence of Henry II, from which he ruled his sprawling kingdom that encompassed both England and a large part of western France. Here he battled not only the French king and renegade barons, but also his own turbulent family, including his four sons who were in a constant state of rebellion. They were encouraged and abetted in their attempts to seize the throne by their mother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry beat back the challenge from his offspring, but time is always on the side of the young. Henry died while still at Chinon and was succeeded by his second son, soon to become famous as Richard the Lionheart. Eleanor outlived them both, becoming the effective ruler for many years while Richard was off crusading in the Holy Land.

Henry was buried at the nearby Abbey of Fontevraud and he was eventually followed there by both Richard and Eleanor when they died. Now they all lie side-by-side in the silent interior of the abbey chapel. Stepping out from the hush of the tombs into the cloistered gardens inside the abbey, one can only hope that they have eventually found the peace that they certainly never knew in their lifetimes.

Touring vast chateaux can get tiring. Revive yourself with fabulous food in one of their signature restaurants. Often situated right in the sprawling grounds of the chateau, these restaurants feature fantastic, innovative food with reasonable (lunch) prices. Here, you can sit in the shade of an ancient tree, gazing out at spectacularly beautiful gardens while savoring the best food you will eat in your entire trip!

Classic, sophisticated and easy to make, this French favourite will wow your family and friends! Serve with crusty baguette and a crisp salad, and if you have any of that wine left after cooking, serve that too!
Pair this dish with a Chèvre Omelette for a delicious meal.

Moules Marinières

2 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large sprig of thyme

1/2 cup white wine

Salt to taste

1/4-1/2 tsp ground black Pepper

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Toasted baguette

Clean mussels and discard any that are open. Transfer to a bowl.

Warm butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and thyme sprig. Saute for 2-3 min, until lightly softened.

Add reserved mussels, white wine, salt and pepper. Give it a good mix, cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 4 min or until mussels have steamed open.

Pick over with tongs and discard any mussels that haven't opened, as well as the sprig of thyme.

Add cream, parsley and lemon juice, mixing well. Cook 1 min to incorporate.

Serve right away with toasted baguette.

Note: For a thicker sauce, remove cooked mussels from broth and reserve in a bowl. Bring broth to a boil over medium high heat and reduce until lightly thickened, about 2-3 min. Add mussels, mix well before serving.

Serves four

Chinon - 27.jpg

 

 

Ratatouille In The Loire Valley, France

The Loire valley is ideally situated to be the playground for the rich and powerful in France. Close to Paris, and with stunningly beautiful scenery on the banks of the Loire, Indre and Cher rivers, French kings, queens and aristocrats have been building their luxurious châteaus in this region for centuries. Many of the greatest moments of French history have been played out in the halls of these magnificent palaces.

Amboise - 41.jpg

The château of Amboise is one of the oldest in the region, and reached it's height of glory in the early sixteenth century during the reign of King François I, who grew up there and made it his principal residence. The château of Amboise towers above the Loire river from where it dominates the surrounding countryside.

Amboise - 15.jpg

François I was a fervent admirer of the Italian renaissance, and he invited many of the great artists of the time to his court, including Leonardo da Vinci. The great painter came, carrying the still unfinished painting of the Mona Lisa in his baggage. He spent the last few years of his life at Amboise, and is said to have died while being watched over by the king. He was buried in a small chapel in the castle, that still stands.

Chenonceaux - 13.jpg

The most famous château is perhaps that of Chenoceau. Its main halls are built on a bridge that spans the river Cher, creating an iconic image. The stunning reflection of the building in the river and the gardens that stretch out around it attract more visitors than any other site in the Loire valley.

Chenonceau came into the possession of King Henri II, son of François I, who gifted it to his beloved mistress Diane de Poitiers who lived there and built the graceful span across the river. Unfortunately Henri II died in a jousting accident, and his widow, Catherine de Medici became the Regent of France, ruling in the name of her infant son. Catherine had a somewhat jaundiced view of her late husband's generous presents, and forced Diane to return the château. Catherine made Chenonceau her own favourite residence and expanded it even further.

If there is any château that competes with Chenonceau for the title of the loveliest building in the Loire valley, it is that of Azay-le-Rideau.

Azay-le-Rideau is one of the smaller châteaus in the region, but it is a perfect little gem. Set on an island in the middle of the Indre river, it looks like a fairy-tale castle, complete with pointed rooftops on the corner towers. All it needs are Sleeping Beauty and a handsome prince for the fantasy to be complete!

Ratattouille.jpg

The Loire valley is famous for its gastronomy. There is amazing food to be found in chic Michelin starred restaurants tucked away in tiny little towns. Opt for the set lunch menu and you will dine like a king at a very affordable price! Ratatouille, with sweet summer ripened vegetables is a classic from this region and needs only crusty bread to mop up it all up.
Try your hand at another easy French classic - Moules Mariniéres.

Ratatouille

4 tbsp oil, divided

2 cups each, 1/2 inch dice: eggplant, assorted coloured zucchini, assorted coloured sweet peppers

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large sprig of thyme

2 cups pureed tomatoes, fresh or canned

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Warm 2 tbsp oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant and cook for about 5-7 min until lightly browned and softened. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining 2 tbsp oil to skillet. Add onions, garlic and thyme. Saute until lightly browned and softened, about 5-7 min.

Add zucchini and peppers. Saute for another 5-7 min until vegetables are softened.

Add eggplant back to skillet. Cook 2 min.

Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, mixing in gently. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 15-20 min until vegetables are soft and sauce is thick. Remove thyme sprig.

Transfer ratatouille to a serving bowl and sprinkle fresh parsley over top.

Serves four

Chenonceaux - 13.jpg