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Fish Chowder In Bermuda

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Bermuda has long been associated with stormy weather. The first permanent settlers arrived rather unceremoniously after their ship, en route from England to Virginia in 1609, was blown by a hurricane onto the reefs that surround the island. Shakespeare, writing "The Tempest" two years later, referred to "the still-vex'd Bermoothes". In more recent times it has given its name to the infamous Bermuda Triangle, that sinister region of ocean in which ships are said to disappear mysteriously.

All this history seems rather hard to believe when you walk under a brilliant blue sky, powdery pink sand under your feet, gazing out at the tranquil waters lapping the beach. At such a moment it is easy to understand why Mark Twain once said, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

Heaven is exactly what Bermuda seemed like during our recent visit. Walking on those blushing pink soft sand beaches, dipping our toes in the cerulean waters and admiring the gorgeous rugged, mountainous scenery made us want to move there permanently! Our celebratory family get together was made even more special by being in Bermuda together and we all left with warm memories that will never fade.

The food that we ate and the lovely hospitality that we encountered on the island definitely added to our wonderful experience. One of our most favourite dishes was the local fish chowder and we ate it every chance we got!

Decidedly Bermuda's most famous national dish, with many an interesting legend attached to it, this chowder was first introduced centuries ago by British settlers. Over time, it grew into something uniquely Bermudian with the addition of local fish and vegetables, many herbs and spices and the taste boosting sherry pepper sauce. This addictive sauce, which improves the taste of anything it is sprinkled on, was brought to Bermuda by sailors who pickled hot peppers in barrels of sherry on board ship to improve the flavour of their rations.

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My favourite legend is one where the chowder used to be cooked right on the beach, in huge cauldrons set over a bonfire. This was a good way to make the most of the day's catch and relax with a glass of black rum, after throwing some into the soup pot. That is a scene I would have liked to come across in my wanderings on the beach!

That first taste of authentic Bermuda fish chowder is like none other! The rich, smoky flavours of caramelized vegetables, black rum, fragrant island spices and fresh local fish simmered long and slow in a tomato based fish broth, all of it doused liberally with sherry pepper sauce will leave you craving more!

Bermudians take great pride in preparing their secret family recipe, handed down through the generations. I was fortunate to get the recipe from the chef of Barracuda Restaurant, where we had a delicious meal.

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The fish generally used in this chowder is local Wahoo, Rockfish or Red Snapper. However, any of the ones listed below or a combination works just as well. Although fish heads are generally used to make the flavourful broth, my recipe is a simplified version. Serve with a wedge of lemon, some crusty bread and a bottle of sherry pepper sauce (of course!).

Bermuda Fish Chowder

1 lb white fleshed fish fillets such as Cod, Sea Bass, Haddock or Halibut

2 tbsp each: butter, olive oil

1/2 cup each, finely chopped: onions, sweet red or green bell peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes

2 each: thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic cloves (chopped)

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, oregano, smoked paprika,

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice

1 cup dry white wine

4 large canned whole plum tomatoes packed in puree (preferably San Marzano variety), lightly drained and mashed

1 cup tomato puree from above canned tomatoes

1 tbsp each: hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp each: Black rum, sherry (optional)

Rinse fish, place in a deep saucepan and cover with 4 cups of water. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 min.

Gently lift all of the fish pieces out of the broth and remove skin and bones, if any. Flake fish gently with a fork, leaving in a few bigger pieces for texture. Reserve flaked fish and fish broth separately for later use in the recipe.

Meanwhile, warm butter and oil in deep, heavy soup pot set over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Saute, stirring for 10 min, then reduce heat to medium low and continue sauteing for another 20 min until vegetables are tender and golden in colour.

Add salt, pepper, oregano, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Saute 1 min.

Add wine, cook 1 min until it starts to bubble.

Add tomatoes, puree, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.

Add reserved fish broth, cover pot and bring to a gentle simmer on medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Add flaked fish, stir gently to mix and continue cooking covered on low heat for another 30 min.

Fold in the rum and sherry, if using.

Serve immediately.

Serves four

Egg Curry In Coorg, India

The mere thought of visiting India brings such a flood of warm memories that I can hardly wait to go back! India, and especially Bangalore will always be home to me. This is where I grew up, where my mother still lives and where my brothers and I gather once a year for a much needed, much looked forward to reunion!

This yearly ritual of reconnecting with family in Bangalore is very life affirming since I live in Canada. Quite often, I feel like I am straddling the divide with one foot 'back home' and one abroad. But as soon as I'm with my brothers, the years slip away and I thoroughly enjoy that easygoing childhood banter once more! So every year we all gather, have a lot of laughs, create new memories and enjoy the fabulous food that Bangalore has to offer.

 A trip to Bangalore wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of our favourite restaurants - Punjab Grill. The food here is excellent and the chefs create amazing new dishes to keep us coming back! Executive chef Bipin Kumar is always very welcoming and generous with sharing his wonderful recipes. The lamb seekh kababs in the picture below are my absolute favourite and you can find chef Bipin's unique recipe over here.

On our recent visit this year, we took a short trip to Coorg, a charming little hill station set in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. As we neared the lush green mountains with many coffee and spice plantations nestled in between, passed by waterfalls and wild life sanctuaries set beside steep winding roads and breathed in the cool refreshing breeze, we were glad to leave behind the heat, noise and hectic pace of Bangalore.

We stayed at Cinnamon Cottages, a bed and breakfast homestay on a family owned coffee and spice plantation belonging to my brother's late friend K.S Raj and his wife Asha. This sprawling, oasis of a plantation with beautiful flowering shrubs and trees lining it's driveway, grows a variety of spices, fruits and coffee.

Asha's son Mahavir, a young man of 24 is now in charge of the plantation. Charming, full of enthusiasm with innovative new ideas for the future, he graciously showed us around the plantation. This huge, majestic, centuries old Banyan tree (seen in the picture above) grabbed our attention and Mahavir told us how he used to swing on it's sturdy rope like branches as a child, a lot like Tarzan!

In addition to cinnamon, cardamom and pepper, coffee is the major crop grown here. Mahavir is showing us his prized Arabica coffee beans, still green and not yet ready for picking, in the picture above.

I found Asha's old fashioned, traditional Coorgi kitchen (seen in the picture above) absolutely fascinating. With it's huge wood burning stove lining the entire length of one wall, shiny copper cooking pots bubbling over in one corner and exotic aromas wafting around, it reminded me of days gone by when a lot of homes in India had kitchens like this!

Asha also has a modern kitchen with a gas stove where she does most of her cooking. She served us delicious egg curry for breakfast, which was paired with Puttu (a steamed rice and coconut dish). We enjoyed this traditional Coorgi breakfast by spooning the curry over the puttu, letting it become all spongy and flavourful and devouring several helpings of it!

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Here is Asha's recipe for Coorg style egg curry. Serve it with basmati rice as puttu is hard to come by! And if you are serving this for breakfast, have some Masala Chai to go with it.

Egg Curry

4 large eggs

2 tbsp oil

1/4 tsp black mustard seeds

20 fresh curry leaves

2 green chilies, sliced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced

5 large canned whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano variety), pureed

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each, ground spices: turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin, coriander, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)      or use  - 1 tbsp Malabar Masala Powder

1 can (400 ml) premium coconut milk, divided

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed into bite sized pieces

1/4 cup frozen peas

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander

Place eggs in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 6 min, then cool, peel and reserve eggs.

Warm oil in deep skillet set over medium heat.

Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies. Saute for 1 min.

Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet, saute 5-7 min until lightly browned and softened.

Add pureed tomatoes, salt and all the spices. Saute, stirring for about 5 min until slightly thickened.

Skim off about 6 tbsp of cream from the top of the can of coconut milk and reserve. Pour remainder of the can into skillet, stirring well. Cook 2 min.

Add potatoes, peas and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover skillet and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 min until potatoes are soft, peas are cooked and sauce has thickened slightly. Stir occasionally.

Add eggs and cook uncovered for 10 min, stirring occasionally.

Add reserved coconut cream, lemon juice and fresh coriander to curry. Turn up heat to medium and cook uncovered for 5 min. If sauce is too thin for your liking, turn up the heat and boil it off for a few more min.

Gently slice each egg in half, transfer to a serving bowl and then spoon the curry sauce over top.

Serves four

Coorg photographs taken by Ajay Tewari

Grilled Corn Chowder In Ontario

Ontario is at it's prettiest in the Fall, when changing colours burnish the landscape with shades of red and gold. This is the time to go on a long road trip to admire the scenery!

One of the most popular places to see the gorgeous colours of Fall is at Algonquin Park, in Ontario. This park is teeming with visitors from around the globe who come to marvel at the stunning and constantly changing foliage. Here you can hike the trails, canoe on the tranquil waters, camp out in the wilderness or enjoy a picnic while savouring the majesty of nature.

Fall is also when Ontario's markets are flooded with fresh farm produce, making me want to come up with new and creative ways to use them in my cooking!  The best place to buy fresh picked vegetables, smoked meats, home made preserves, pickles, baked goods and so much more is at St. Jacob's market, in Ontario. I love going there to stock up on loads of fresh produce and other goodies. And when I get back home, this grilled corn chowder is the first thing that I make. It is warming and hearty for the cooler weather and grilling adds a new dimension of flavour to the soup.

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When corn is in season, I like to grill up lots of it on the barbecue, then take the kernels off the cobs and freeze them in ziploc bags. This way, we get to enjoy that grilled corn flavour all year around!
This is an all vegetarian recipe but you can add about 2-3 slices of chopped smoked bacon if you wish. Sauteed shrimp folded in at the very end are also great add ins! Serve with some crusty bread and a salad.

Grilled Corn Chowder

3 cobs of corn, grilled

2 tbsp olive oil

2 long sprigs fresh thyme

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 each, finely chopped: carrot, celery, zucchini, red pepper

4 mushrooms, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped

2 tbsp all purpose flour

3 cups milk

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp each: grated Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley

Take the kernels off the cobs of corn and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times until corn is minced but not turned into a paste. Some texture is important here. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add thyme, onions, garlic, carrot, celery, zucchini, red pepper, mushrooms and potato. Saute, stirring occasionally for about 10 min or until vegetables are lightly browned and slightly softened. 

Add flour to skillet, saute 1 min.

Add milk, stirring all the while. Add salt and pepper as well as the reserved minced corn. Cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 min for flavours to blend and soup to thicken.

Add cream, cook 2 min. Turn off heat, then fold in the Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Serve right away.

Serves four

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Fried Perch In Erieau, Ontario

Near the shores of Lake Erie lies one of the most inspiring places in Canada - the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Ontario. When the Reverend William King, an Irish born Presbyterian minister, found that he had inherited the Louisiana estate of his recently deceased wife and become the owner of 15 slaves, he resolved to set them free and move with them to Canada where they would be safe. The settlement that he founded in 1848 became one of the largest black communities in Canada and attracted many more settlers escaping slavery in the United States.

All newcomers were welcomed - the bell that was rung to announce the latest arrivals still hangs outside the Buxton museum, which has also preserved some of the original buildings from the settlement. Each new family was assigned a 50 acre farm that they could cultivate and eventually purchase.

Education was one of the most important missions of the Elgin settlement. After black children were denied admission into local schools, the settlers built their own schoolhouse. The quality of teaching was so good that soon other parents in the area were clamouring for their children to to be admitted. Racial barriers were swept aside in the school and photographs of these well integrated classes hang on the walls of the schoolhouse today. Graduates of the school went on to become successful doctors, teachers and political leaders, both in Canada and the United States.

The sleepy charm of rural Buxton and the surrounding Chatham Kent area is best explored at a leisurely pace. Spend some time in delightful village of Erieau where you can relax on the sandy beach or dip your toes in the warm waters of Lake Erie or explore nearby Rondeau Provincial Park where you can go hiking, fishing or bird watching.

The charming Retro Suites Hotel in downtown Chatham is a good place to stay if you want to spend a night or two in the area. It certainly lives up to it's name and is full of quirky and quaint pieces of decor. We were delighted with our stay there, as well as the amazing breakfast they served up. 

One of the pleasures of taking a road trip in Ontario in late summer is seeing the gorgeous produce in the fields, just waiting to be harvested. When we passed field upon field of red, juicy, sun ripened tomatoes, it was all I could do not to stop the car and help myself! Luckily, there are many roadside farm stands for city folk like us who just can't get enough of all this farm fresh goodness! We returned home with our car stuffed with fresh picked vegetables, home made preserves, fresh pressed apple cider as well as smoked and frozen seafood from the lake.

If you are driving around the Chatham Kent area, you will find plenty of restaurants serving creative, outstanding food. A wonderful restaurant in Chatham, called Casabella on the Thames is housed in a lovely, gracious old building on the banks of the Thames river. We had exquisitely prepared, fresh seafood while gazing out at the water, admiring the sunset and letting the peace and tranquility of our surroundings soak in.

One of the best places to try local fish is at Molly and OJ'S, a family restaurant that has been serving up fresh perch (and other good food) to enthusiastic customers in the picturesque Erieau area, since 1966. Their crispy, flavourful fried perch is delicious and just one bite will make you want to keep coming back for more!

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Chef Tom Vidler, co owner of Molly and OJ'S graciously shared his justly famous recipe with us. Easy and delicious, you can serve the perch with fries and coleslaw for the authentic experience or with a fresh sliced salad as I have done. It is fantastic either way!

Fried Perch

1 cup all purpose flour

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

2 eggs, beaten and lightly seasoned to taste

2 cups finely crushed soda cracker crumbs or bread crumbs or panko

1 lb yellow perch fillets (about 4)

1/2 cup unsalted butter plus 4 tbsp extra for de-glazing

1 lemon, juiced plus extra wedges for garnish

Combine flour, salt and pepper in shallow bowl.

Place eggs and breadcrumbs each in separate shallow bowls. Place them all near the stove.

Dip each fillet of fish in the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in turn, coating completely all over.

Warm 1/2 cup butter in large saucepan set over medium heat.

Cook fillets, in batches if necessary, until golden and crisp, about 3-4 min per side, turning once.

Transfer fish to a serving platter.

Add remaining 4 tbsp of butter to skillet, along with the juice of one lemon. Stir to loosen crispy bits at bottom of pan. Cook until bubbling gently, about 30 sec.

Pour warm butter lemon sauce over fish and serve right away with lemon wedges.

Serves four

Tomato Bread Soup In Orvieto

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Orvieto, situated right on top of a huge volcanic cliff, rose majestically in the distance as we drove up. Surrounded by a lush green valley dotted with vineyards, olive groves, farm houses and cypress trees, it's sheer height seemed all the more imposing up close. Instead of braving the steep cobbled streets, we took the funicular right into the heart of town.

Here we were charmed by beautiful old buildings, balconies spilling with flowers and narrow streets going up and down, affording us plenty of exercise! The town is small and easy to walk around in. Corso Cavour, it's main street is where the action lies. Lined with shops, bars, restaurants and cafes, it is a fun place to people watch as you leisurely sip a glass of wine or savour a gelato.

The most breathtaking sight in all of Orvieto is its magnificent Gothic Duomo (cathedral). One of the finest we have seen in Italy, it has charming candy stripes inside and out, glittering mosaics on its facade, and fabulous bas reliefs on its pillars. Inside are gorgeous frescoes by Signorelli which always draw a large audience. There was a beautiful wedding going on inside when we visited, adding to the wide eyed wonder of the crowds!

One of the sights we were very keen to see was Orvieto underground. A labyrinth of about 440 caves, dating back to Etruscan times, these are a fascinating glimpse of life lived centuries ago, when people sheltered here when the city was under siege by the Romans. These caves have also been used to raise pigeons, as storage and wine cellars as well as WWII bomb shelters.    

Orvieto produces some of the best wines in the region and has many excellent wine bars dotted around town. We know because we tried a good many of them anytime we wanted to rest our feet! And since we couldn't possibly have wine just by itself, we also got to sample some of the famed local wild boar charcuterie, cheeses and pates.
One of the restaurants we ate in - Al Pozzo Etrusco, had fantastic pasta. I ordered hand made pasta in a chickpea flour meat sauce. It was so unusual, earthy and delicious, unlike anything I'd had before and it reminded me so much of Indian cuisine as chickpea flour is used in many of our dishes too, although with loads of masala!

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This rustic, hearty tomato bread soup is one of my favourites and is very simple and satisfying. I've used fresh tomatoes here and roasted them to concentrate their flavours. You can just as easily use canned tomatoes and skip the roasting step. I like to use fresh bread as I love the way it soaks up the soup, turning into soft, velvety pillows of flavour that are a delight to eat!

Tomato Bread Soup

2 lb (about 10-12 large) ripe fresh tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus a few extra for garnish

6 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling over top of soup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 1/2 cups small diced/torn Italian bread, crusts removed

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

Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil, 4 tbsp of the olive oil, salt and pepper in mixing bowl. Spread in a single layer on tray. Bake for 30 min until tomatoes are roasted, lightly browned and giving up their juices. Reserve.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in skillet over medium heat.

Add onions, saute until lightly browned and softened, about 5 min.

Add red pepper flakes, saute 30 sec till fragrant.

Add reserved roasted tomato mixture, broth and bread. Mix well, cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 min or until soup has thickened and tomatoes have broken down completely. Stir occasionally, mashing tomatoes gently.

If soup is too thick for your liking, thin it down with some more broth or water. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, garnished with basil leaves.

Serves four

Pasta With Fresh Tomato Vegetable Sauce In Assisi, Italy

Assisi is one of the holiest places in the world for Catholics, being the birthplace of St. Francis, among the most beloved of all saints. The town is dominated by the Basilica of St. Francis, which attracts pilgrims from all over the world. The interior of the Basilica is covered with brilliantly coloured murals,  that are stunningly beautiful illustrations of scenes from the life of the great saint.

The town of Assisi is much older than the Basilica, dating back to the Roman era. As in many other places in Italy, medieval churches and castles have been built on the ruins of Roman temples and amphitheaters, very often merging later buildings with the remains of much older structures. Wandering through the narrow lanes of the town it is hard to know which era you are walking through.

The slopes of the hills surrounding Assisi are covered with fields and vineyards, where monks have tended their crops for centuries. The calm beauty of the landscape adds to the serenity of the town and is a fitting memorial to St. Francis, who loved nature and animals so much that he is said to have preached to the birds!

The produce from the farms finds its way to the kitchens of the restaurants in Assisi, who create an amazing variety of dishes. Our lunch at a small, but well known restaurant, called Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba was the best we've had in all of Italy! Faced with all this bounty we could only invoke the prayer of another famous saint - St. Augustine - who is said to have exclaimed "Lord give me continence, but not just yet"!

This is the sauce to make when you have lots of lovely vine ripened summer fresh tomatoes. Combined with the heady aroma of fresh basil, there is no better summer pasta than this one. If you're feeling decadent, throw in some whipping cream for a richer sauce! Serve with Grilled lamb chops for a meatier option.
Check out my Lamb Ragu with papardelle for another delicious recipe to try out!

Pasta With Fresh Tomato Vegetable Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup each, chopped small: eggplant,  zucchini, sweet red pepper

2 lb (about 10) finely chopped fresh, ripe, juicy plum tomatoes (peeled if desired)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb uncooked penne pasta

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup each: chopped fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, warm oil in deep skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and garlic, saute 5-7 min until softened and lightly browned.

Add eggplant, zucchini and red peppers. Saute 10 min until vegetables are softened and lightly browned.

Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Remove skillet from heat, let sauce rest 10 min for tomatoes to soften.

Add the pasta to pot of boiling water, reduce heat to medium and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 12 min. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Add hot pasta, butter, basil and Parmesan cheese to sauce in skillet. Mix well, then let pasta rest 5 min to absorb some of the sauce. If tomatoes aren't juicy enough, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to create more of a sauce. Serve right away with additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

Serves six

Chocolate Mousse In Perugia, Italy

Perugia, famous for its Baci Perugina chocolates (that I love!), has always been a place I've wanted to visit. However, these rich, nutty chocolates weren't the only reason I wanted to see this beautiful capital city of Umbria, for it is also rich in history, architecture, art and culture.

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The medieval heart of Perugia, situated on top of a hill, surrounded by an ancient wall overlooking lush Umbrian countryside, is best explored by foot.

Walk through steep, narrow alleys and end up in the historic Piazza IV Novembre to get a feel for what this area must have been like when it was the meeting place for Etruscan and Roman cultures centuries ago. Just to stand here is to feel a part of this incredible history!

Here you will come across remnants of Etruscan architecture, Gothic looking medieval palaces turned into fabulous art museums, a magnificent cathedral and the spectacular Fontana Maggiore (fountain). There are lots of cafes and some really good restaurants here as well.

The food we ate in Perugia was inventive, delicious and made with locally sourced ingredients. But the desserts took 'local' to a whole new level! We had a fantastic chocolate mousse in a wonderful restaurant called La Taverna, just steps away from Piazza IV Novembre. Not surprisingly, it was made with local Baci Perugina chocolate and was decadently chocolatey, topped with toasted nuts.

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For a creamier mousse, increase the quantity of whipping cream to one cup. Serve with a wafer for scooping! Check out another Italian dessert that I love - Tiramisu!

Chocolate Mousse

3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

3 tbsp water

1/4 cup white sugar, divided

4 oz semi sweet or Baci Perugina chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup 35% whipping cream

Half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, combine 3 egg yolks, 3 tbsp sugar and 3 tbsp water in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.

Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 4 min.

Remove bowl from heat (keep water simmering on stove for later possible use), and add the chocolate, stirring until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. If chocolate lumps remain, place bowl back over the simmering water for a few seconds, stirring all the while, until chocolate is smooth. Reserve.

In separate bowl, beat egg whites with hand mixer, until soft peaks form.

Fold half the beaten egg whites into chocolate base, taking care not to stir too much. Fold in remaining beaten egg whites, stirring gently until just incorporated.

Wash and dry hand mixer blades. In separate bowl, beat whipping cream and remaining 1 tbsp sugar with hand mixer until thickened, about 5 min.

Fold cream into chocolate mousse base, stirring gently until just combined. 

Cover and refrigerate 12 hours or longer.

Serves four - six

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Grilled Lamb Chops In Cortona, Tuscany

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I fell in love with Cortona when I first saw the movie Under The Tuscan Sun, parts of which were filmed here. So of course we had to spend a day exploring this charming little mountain town when we were driving around Tuscany recently.

It seemed that I was not alone in my love for Cortona for we came across an entire wedding party traveling all the way from America, to hold their ceremony in the beautiful old church. Under The Tuscan Sun still has many fans! Indeed there were old movie posters all over town, proudly showing the locations where the movie was filmed.

Most of Cortona can be seen in one day, especially if you are wearing good walking shoes! The steep, winding medieval alleyways, the ancient town walls affording glorious views of the amazing Tuscan countryside with glimpses of Lago Trasimeno (lake) shimmering in the distance, the fortress at the very top of the hill, and the the main town square of Piazza della Repubblica will keep you happily exploring for hours.

There is also the famous Diocesan museum housed in one of the old churches that is well known for it's fabulous works of religious art. The churches here date back to the 12th century and are lovely to explore while soaking in the peace.
And when you want to give your feet a rest, there are plenty of good restaurants and cafes to relax in. We had a delicious meal of grilled lamb chops with garlic and rosemary, pasta in cream sauce and a sun ripened tomato caprese salad that, along with a huge gelato, revived us wonderfully.

These lamb chops develop fantastic flavour when marinated overnight. Serve them with some crusty bread and a salad to complete the meal.

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Grilled Lamb Chops

8 lamb rib chops, each about 3/4 inch thick

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 long sprig of rosemary, coarsely chopped up

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup each: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine

Combine all of the ingredients in a resealable plastic bag, shake well to coat lamb with marinade.

Refrigerate overnight, shaking bag occasionally.

Preheat barbecue to medium high.

Remove lamb from bag, discarding marinade.

Grill chops for about 6 min or until done to your liking, turning once.

Transfer lamb chops to serving platter, tent with foil and let them rest for 10 min before serving.

Serves Four

Tomato Salad With Grilled Eggplant Confit In Siena, Tuscany

Siena, with it's magnificent Gothic architecture, captivated us from the first moment we saw it. This beautifully preserved city exudes medieval charm and made us feel magically transported back to the 12th century!  

We delighted in losing ourselves in it's warren of narrow lanes and steep steps....

which opened up unexpectedly to a breathtaking view of the glorious Tuscan countryside....

or a glimpse of a church on top of a hill....

or led us to one of the most unusual and beautiful piazzas we have ever seen - Piazza Del Campo. This Campo, a world UNESCO heritage site, is laid out in a unique, sloping accordion shape with a semi circle of buildings around it.

At one side is Siena's medieval seat of government, the Palazzo Pubblico, with it's majestic Torre del Mangia rising into the sky. You can climb 400 steps up this tower for fabulous views of the city and countryside below.

The famous Renaissance era Fonte Gaia or Fountain Of Joy is here as well, where people used to gather 600 years ago to get water and exchange gossip. It is still a favourite place for tourists and locals to hang out, take pictures and gossip!

The Campo is also where the famous Palio (horse race) is run, where important events have been held for centuries and where everyone gathers to sit at one of the many cafes lining the piazza while watching the world go by. People treat the red brick lined campo rather like a sandy beach, to stretch out under the sun for a snooze, eat an impromptu picnic or simply take a break in between sightseeing.

One of Siena's most awe inspiring sights is its Duomo (cathedral). You can see tantalizing glimpses of this eye catching striped black and white marble structure from various parts of the city, beckoning you to come inside and marvel at it's many wonders. The classic Italian Gothic striped design is carried on it's interior as well and the mosaic panels on the floor, the works of art by famous artists such as Michelangelo are fabulous to behold.

Some of the best food we had in Italy was here in Siena. There were so many good restaurants and so many unusual dishes to try that two days weren't enough! Grilled eggplant confit was on many restaurant menus, served in interesting, creative ways. We ate it stuffed into puff pastry envelopes for appetizers, folded into warm pasta to make an unusual and satisfying main course, and served atop thick slices of tomatoes as a superb salad. That salad was so addictive that I have been making it regularly ever since! Delicious, summery and refreshing, it is perfect for lunch, needing only some crusty bread to complete the meal.

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When I grill the eggplant, I also throw some sweet peppers and onions on the barbecue, then chop them finely when charred and add to the eggplant confit for additional smoky deliciousness.

For more tasty tomato recipes, check out Caprese salad and Bruschetta.

Tomato Salad With Grilled Eggplant Confit

1 medium eggplant

1/4 cup each: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped fresh basil leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 tsp toasted ground cumin seeds

1 lb (about 4) ripe heirloom tomatoes of assorted colours, sliced into rounds

250g (about 8 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

Grill eggplant in a barbecue, oven or stovetop until charred and soft. Cool and discard outer charred skin. Transfer pulp to a chopping board and mash well with a fork. You should have about a cup of eggplant pulp.

Combine eggplant pulp, 2 tbsp each of the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped fresh basil as well as salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Mix in the toasted cumin. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer for flavours to blend.

Arrange tomato slices on serving platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Top tomato slices with mozzarella cheese, then add a dollop of eggplant confit.

Drizzle remaining olive oil and vinegar over top.

Scatter remaining fresh basil over salad.

Serve right away.

Serves four

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Strawberry Tiramisu In Volterra, Tuscany

The best way to see the wonderful sights of Tuscany is to drive around in a car. You can meander your way through Cypress tree lined avenues, pull over to the side of the road and admire vineyards, olive groves, rolling hills and ancient ruins and take lots of pictures of the gorgeous scenery.

you can also get away from the hordes of tourists and get to know the real Tuscany, letting the warmth of it's people and it's serene beauty seep gently into your soul.

One such drive took us to Volterra, a lovely mountaintop town that has been in existence since Etruscan times, made famous these days by the Twilight series of books and movies which are set here.

Volterra still has some remnants of it's Etruscan glory days, such as the Porta all'Arco, a stone arch dating back to 400 BC and parts of the old city walls, also dating back to those days when it's population was double what it is today. In those days, as in now, Volterra was a major center for alabaster, attracting many skilled craftsmen to base their studios here.

Once you are done shopping in the many alabaster shops lining the street, head over to Piazza dei Priori, the medieval heart of this town, with a palace and tower at one end. Explore this lovely, ancient town as you stroll through it's narrow cobbled lanes, winding up at one of my favourite sites - the Teatro Romano or the Roman theater and baths. Built in the 1st century BC, it is still an imposing sight, giving us a fascinating glimpse of the actors who played on this stage and the audience who applauded them.

 

On our way back from Volterra, we stopped off in the tiny village of Montemagno for dinner. Trattoria di Montemagno is a cheerful, bustling place, serving such incredible, authentic Tuscan fare that their tables are always full, with a lineup of hungry people waiting to get in!

We had their home made pasta with chickpeas, a divine eggplant tart, the likes of which we have never seen before and a local specialty known as Trippa (tripe). We rounded off our meal with an unusual dessert - strawberry tiramisu.

Never having come across a fruity tiramisu before, we were intrigued and had to order it. It turned out to be fantastic! Luscious, ripe strawberries layered with clouds of rich, creamy mascarpone, drizzled with strawberry syrup - what's not to like?!

My easy recipe tastes a lot like the tiramisu we had in Montemagno. Of course there is ground cardamom in it because I am incapable of making a dessert without it! I think it works well and adds an aromatic, citrusy depth to the dessert. You can always leave it out if you like. The overnight resting time is crucial in allowing the flavours to develop properly.
And if you want classic tiramisu, try my recipe here!

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This is a dessert to enjoy when fresh, ripe strawberries are in season. They have so much sweetness and flavour that you don't have to macerate them or fold with preserves to enhance their taste. Keep it simple and savour every bite!

Strawberry Tiramisu With Cardamom

For Syrup:

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh ripe strawberries (use extra juicy ones)

2 cups water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

For Zabaglione:

3 egg yolks

3 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp water

For Tiramisu:

1 1/4 cups 35% whipping cream

1/4 cup granulated sugar

275g tub Mascarpone cheese

200g Italian Savoiardi (ladyfinger) cookies

3 cups halved ripe strawberries

Make syrup by combining sliced strawberries, water and 1/4 cup sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer 5 min until strawberries are soft and syrupy. Cool 15 min, add 1 tsp ground cardamom, then puree strawberry mixture. Reserve.

To make zabaglione, half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, combine Zabaglione ingredients in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.

Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 5 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth. Reserve.

In separate bowl, beat whipping cream and 1/4 cup sugar with hand mixer until thickened, about 5 min.

Add reserved zabaglione mixture and mascarpone cheese to whipped cream, beating lightly with hand mixer with each addition. Chill and reserve until needed.

You can assemble the tiramisu in a large, deep, flat bottomed glass dish or in individual cups, according to your choice.

Transfer strawberry syrup mixture to a shallow flat bowl and warm for 2 min in the microwave.

Dip the savoiardi cookies generously in the prepared strawberry syrup mixture, allowing them to soak up the syrup lightly, and lay them in a single layer in bottom of dish. Top with half of reserved zabaglione cream mixture. Layer half of the halved strawberries over top.

Repeat with one more layer of cookies dipped in strawberry syrup. If you have any syrup left, sprinkle it all over top of cookies.

Spread remainder of the cream mixture over cookies. Arrange remaining strawberries over top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for best flavour.

Serves six - eight