Blog

Green Curry Chicken In Phuket

Phuket has long been known as a dazzling island paradise and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. If you want to experience all the faces of Thailand's tourism in one small microcosm, Phuket is the place to do it. There you will find Australian backpackers, Swedish honeymooners, ageing American hippies, Chinese tour groups and boisterous Indian families all rubbing elbows on the crowded road that runs past Patong beach. Wander a little further and you will also find  stunning sunsets, beach vistas that take your breath away, crystal clear waters, and manicured luxury resorts. Mix this in with Thailand's legendary hospitality and cuisine, and every one has a reason to visit!

Patong's famous Bangla road area, with its wild nightlife, raucous bars, dubious looking massage parlours and transgender cabarets, comes as a bit of a shock to the first time visitor. 
However, just a couple of minutes away is the beach, which is still an oasis of calm and a great place to watch the sunset while strolling on the sand and dipping your toes in the water. There are also many beach shacks serving fruits, juices and other drinks to cool you off.   

 

Phuket has many really good restaurants, some of them situated right by the beach, offering phenomenal views. To watch the sun dipping into the water and listen to the waves crash on the beach, while eating delicious Thai food is a memorable experience indeed.
Ban Rim Pa, a restaurant situated partway up a cliff, overlooking the beautiful beach is one such place. Their lemongrass fish accompanied with a mango salad was just amazing. Another restaurant Pan Yah is right on the beach and specializes in seafood. Their seafood salad and shrimp in Thai chili sauce still lives in my memories!

My all time favourite dish though, is green curry. I love it's fresh flavours, creamy sauce and pretty colours. Chicken is just one of the ingredients you can put in it. Tofu, vegetables or fish are also good. And if you slather the curry paste on a hunk of salmon, throw it on the grill and serve it in a lettuce wrap, you've got an unusual, healthy and delicious way to enjoy it!

We tried green curry in so many ways in Phuket. One of my favourites was deep fried tofu and crisp vegetables bathed in the spicy green curry sauce. 

Another unusual way it was served was with spinach and fish as shown in the picture below. The spinach added a nice silkiness to the texture while the chunks of fish were tender and flavourful in the creamy sauce. Spooned over coconut rice, it was pure heaven!

Since returning from Thailand, I have made sure to have green curry on my menu at least once a week. It helps keep the memories of our trip stay fresh!

Green curry paste is super easy to make at home and so much more flavourful than anything you can buy in a jar. It will last for a week in the refrigerator or you can freeze it instead. I like to freeze it in half cup measures in a ziploc bag so I can pull one out whenever I get a curry craving!

green curry, 1.jpg

Green curry paste can also be used as a marinade for grilled chicken skewers or fish. You can serve this curry with Swordfish satay skewers and coconut rice.

Green Curry Chicken

For green curry paste:

1/2 cup each, packed: fresh coriander leaves and stems, Thai basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

4-6 Thai or other hot chilies

2 tbsp each: Thai curry powder, water

Salt to taste

1 tbsp each: sugar, fish sauce, lime juice

For chicken curry:

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 can (400ml) unsweetened coconut milk

1 lb (450 gm) boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced

1/2 cup each: zucchini (sliced into thin half rounds), green beans (halved), canned baby corn (halved)

lime wedges, peanuts, sliced red chilies, basil leaves for garnish

To make the curry paste, combine all ingredients in blender and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

To make curry, warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until lightly brown and softened, about 5 min. 

Add 1/4 cup of reserved green curry paste and cook 1 min until it is fragrant. Add coconut milk, stir to mix and cook until it starts to bubble, about 4 min.

Add chicken and vegetables, cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook covered until chicken is tender and vegetables are crisp tender, about 10 min. 

Taste sauce and add another tablespoon of the curry paste or a dash of curry powder if desired. Serve garnished with lime wedges, peanuts, chilies and basil leaves.

Serves four


Pad Thai Noodles In Bangkok

Our first impression of Bangkok was one of chaos, as we tried to battle our way through the throngs of people everywhere, the gridlocked traffic, and the street stalls that crowd the sidewalks. Then, after a day or two, we began to feel the rhythms of the city. Behind the tumult of the streets there are oases of calm - gardens and temples of stunning beauty. The people are always quick with a smile and gracious with their warm hospitality. The stalls that make walking through the streets such an obstacle course are the real treasures of the city, for Bangkok is, above all, a never-ending feast!

Bangkok is probably one of the best and safest places to eat street food. Not only is it fresh, delicious and reasonably hygienic (well, we never once fell sick!), it is also cheap, plentiful and very popular with locals and visitors alike. Judging by the sheer number of vendors who have set up impromptu food stalls on every street and their immense popularity, no one in Bangkok seems to cook at home! There is something very satisfying about watching your meal cooked right in front of you while inhaling all those heavenly aromas. Just like being in a cooking class!

While Pad Thai noodles, grilled chicken satays and fresh seafood were some of our choice things to eat from street food vendors; whole grilled fish, coated in a thick 'plaster' of salt and flour was easily our most favourite. The plaster hardens as it dries and keeps the fish incredibly flavourful and moist inside. Before being coated with the flour and salt paste, the fish is first stuffed with lemongrass and herbs to add more flavour. Served with a garlicky dipping sauce, liberally spiked with fiery Thai chillies, it was an amazing new dish that we encountered.

Literally every street in Bangkok has some amazing food and it is very tempting to just follow your nose to the nearest food vendor, grab a stool and eat what's offered. Sukhumvit Soi 38, was one of the first places we ventured out to try street food. One of Bangkok's most popular street food havens, it is lined with lots of food stalls, plastic tables and chairs and exciting Thai food of every description. We grabbed ourselves a couple of plastic chairs and soon an adorable little urchin was at our elbow, offering us a bunch of menus from nearby vendors. 

This little guy cheerfully helped us choose the foods that we would like, brought our meal to the table and was thrilled to pose for a photograph! The food was cheap, tasty and fresh - an unbeatable combination! We washed it all down with chilled green coconut water and felt well fortified to explore some of Bangkok's famous nightlife. 

One of the joys of being in Bangkok was that I could have my favourite Pad Thai noodles for practically every meal! We had it in fancy restaurants where it came wrapped in a gossamer thin, lacy omelette and we had it by the side of a street, sitting on a plastic chair while watching the food vendor deftly toss the ingredients together in a huge wok. No matter where we ate it, or how often, it was always fantastic!

My recipe here is vegetarian but you can easily add sautéed shrimp or chicken if you wish. This is probably very unorthodox of me, but I like to add in some rich coconut cream (skimmed off the top of a can of coconut milk) for the extra creaminess and flavour it adds to the dish. 

Pic,1.jpg

For even more flavour, add a teaspoonful of Thai curry powder and serve with Thai chicken satays or Mussaman Potato Curry to round out the meal.

Pad Thai Noodles

225g (1/2 lb) dried rice stick Pad Thai noodles
2 tbsp each: tamarind chutney or sauce (store bought), tomato ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream
1 tbsp each: Thai red curry paste or Thai chili sauce, dark soy sauce

3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
2 green onions, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
4 lime wedges for garnish

Soak noodles in enough hot water to cover for 20 minutes or until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them. Drain and set aside. 
In a small mixing bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream, curry paste or chilli sauce and soy sauce. Set aside. 
Beat eggs in a small bowl. Warm 1 tbsp oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Pour eggs in, make omelet. Shred omelet roughly with spatula. Set aside.   
Warm remaining oil in large non-stick wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned. Add the bean sprouts, noodles, egg, tamarind soy mixture and peanuts. Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with chopped coriander, green onions and extra peanuts and lime wedges if desired.
Serves four 

Mussaman Potato Curry In Bangkok

A trip to Bangkok has long been on our wish list, so we were thrilled to be able to spend a few days in the city recently. Thais are the friendliest people on earth and we felt welcome as soon as we got there. Throw in some amazing food, great shopping, historical sights as well as gorgeous temples and we were ready to move there permanently!

 

One of the first places we wanted to see in Bangkok was the Grand Palace complex. Even after reading and hearing so much about it, we were completely dazzled by its beauty and sheer magnificence.

The walls are decorated with an inlay work of semi precious stones while golden domes, gilt edged pillars and life sized golden statues add to the grandeur of the place.

One of the city's most well known landmarks, this huge complex was the home of the king and his court as well the place of government for more than 150 years. Within this sprawling complex is also the temple of the Emerald Buddha, a must see sight for any visitor.
 

Buddhism is an integral part of everyday life in Bangkok. You can pay homage to the Buddha in many of the fabulous temples that dot the city. The most famous of these are Wat Pho with its magnificent, giant statue of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Mahathat, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and a centre for learning meditation, Wat Phra Kaew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the spectacular Wat Arun or the temple of the dawn, built right on the river front. 

A lot of the temples, palace complex and other places to see lie along the banks of the Chao Phraya river. A good way to avoid Bangkok's chaotic traffic is to hop aboard a boat, especially in the evening when you can relax in the cool breeze and watch the twinkling lights of the shore. This is still very much a working river and you will see cargo barges sailing amidst river taxis and tourist boats, adding to the bustling atmosphere.

A fun place to stop off on your boat excursion is Asiatique. This huge open air night market is filled with shops, restaurants, street food vendors, entertainment and lots of excitement! We  found it to be the perfect place to buy souvenirs and gifts.

The food in Bangkok is waaay better than anything you can imagine! From higher end restaurants such as Baan Khanitha to lowly street food carts, it is all prepared with fresh ingredients, aromatic herbs and lemongrass, with the perfect balance of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. I just couldn't get enough of my favourites such as Pad Thai noodles, papaya salad and green curry or guzzle down buckets of rich Thai iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk! 

The word "Mussaman" derives from "Mussalman", the Hindi word for Muslim. Indian sailors and traders, many from Gujarat, have been frequent visitors in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia for over a thousand years, and their cooking techniques have left a long-lasting  impression on local cuisines. Mussaman curries are a magical blend of Indian curry spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper with Thai ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal and fish sauce. 

We first had this fantastic potato Mussaman curry at the hotel we were staying at in Bangkok. Called AriasomVilla, it is a lovely, charming, green oasis in the middle of a bustling city. It's restaurant Na Aroon is vegetarian with many delicious, authentic Thai dishes on the menu created by chef David Lees. My recipe is based on one generously shared by Chef David, with a few minor changes here and there (with apologies to chef David!). The restaurant uses vegetarian 'chicken', which I have omitted from the recipe, instead adding tomatoes and herbs for colour and flavour.

 

Mussaman Curry 2.jpg

For variety, add small cubes of tofu or paneer and some green peas along with the potatoes. This curry goes best with plain steamed rice or with warm naan to scoop up the delicious sauce. And the best part is that it tastes even better the next day! If you would like to serve this dish with chicken satay skewers, click here for the recipe. 

Mussaman Potato Curry

1 lb baby potatoes, about 14-16 small ones

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 inch piece ginger or galangal, chopped

1 stalk lemongrass (optional), soft white parts only, roughly chopped

2 tbsp unsalted roasted peanuts

3/4 cup premium canned coconut milk, well shaken

2 tsp each: Thai curry powder, brown sugar, fish sauce or salt to taste

1 cup each: water, halved mini cherry/grape tomatoes

Juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh cilantro and basil

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add potatoes and cook them until just tender but not mushy or falling apart - about 12 - 15 min. Cool, peel and halve them. Reserve.

Meanwhile, warm oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger or galangal, lemongrass and peanuts. Sauté until lightly browned and softened, about 5-7 min.

Cool slightly (about 5 min), then transfer to the jar of a blender, along with the coconut milk, curry powder, sugar, fish sauce (or salt to taste) and water. Blend to a smooth paste.

Transfer this paste back into the skillet, set over medium heat. Add reserved potatoes, stir to mix, cover skillet and cook until mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 min. or until potatoes are very soft and sauce is thick. Stir occasionally.

Fold in tomatoes, lime juice and fresh herbs. Cover and let curry rest 5 min. before serving.

Serves four


Navarin Of Lamb In Montreal

Montreal has always been among our favourite cities, that we like to visit whenever we get a chance. We have had plenty of opportunities to travel to Montreal the last four years while our son Varun was a student at McGill University. The drive to drop him off at school every fall invariably  turned into an extended trip to the Gaspé, Charlevoix, or the Eastern Townships. 
This past week was therefore one of mixed emotions for our family, for while it was a very proud moment for us when Varun graduated, it meant that in future we will have one less excuse to travel to Quebec. We seized this moment to get together in Montreal for one nostalgic weekend to attend his graduation ceremony and celebrate all that the city has to offer.

Montreal has a wonderful cosmopolitan feel that you experience as you walk along the sidewalks overhearing snippets of conversations that rapidly alternate from English to French and back. From the bohemian Latin Quarter around St. Denis street to the  designer shops of St. Catherine street, there is something for everybody and every budget.
One of the must see areas for any foodie visitor to Montreal is Jean Talon market - a vast, bustling marketplace featuring fresh produce, smoked meats, artisanal breads, cheese, sausages and lots of little restaurants and bakeries. It's a wonderful place to explore and nibble your way through!

One of the joys of being in Montreal is to stroll into a boulangerie and have fresh baked flaky croissants and crusty baguettes or walk into any patisserie and enjoy many varieties of  delectable pastries that are guaranteed to ruin your appetite for dinner! Patrice Patissier, Maison Christian Faure, A la Folie, Mamie Clafoutis are just some of our favourite pastry shops where we enjoyed spectacular macarons and other goodies.

Montreal has the highest number of restaurants in Canada, ranging from food trucks on the street to high end restaurants owned by celebrity chefs and everything in between! Names such as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Toqué, Maison Publique and Maison Boulud have proudly put Montreal's restaurant scene on the map and made it well known around the world. 

We had Varun's celebratory graduation dinner at La Salle à Manger, a restaurant specializing in delicious, creative, local cuisine. The chef excelled himself bringing out platter after platter of smoky house cured meats, fresh seafood and innovative mains until we were so full, we could barely leave room for dessert - a white chocolate tart topped with apricot compote and raspberry coulis. It was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend!

Montreal cuisine is an intriguing mix of French and Quebecois influences with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. Dishes such as Tourtière (meat pies), Pouding Chômeur (cake baked with maple syrup), Montreal style smoked meats, Bagels and Poutine are quintessentially Quebecois and definitely should be tried at least once when you visit. Also worth tasting is Montreal's ethnic cuisine which reflects its well established communities of Moroccan, Algerian, Lebanese and Jewish immigrants.

DSC_0062.jpg

This French style Navarin (stew) of lamb is delicious with tender Spring vegetables and needs just a light white wine to bring out it's delicate flavours. Varun has shared his recipe here and has often made this delicious lamb stew for us at home. He likes it's simplicity of preparation, fresh flavour and the fact that it tastes better the next day and the next! He would often make a large pot of it in university and enjoy it for the rest of the week! Varun recommends serving this navarin with warm crusty bread or garlic mashed potatoes and a salad.

Navarin Of Lamb With Spring Vegetables

800 gm boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, cubed into 2 inch chunks

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

6 small each: carrots in assorted colours, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces; potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 stick celery, chopped

2 small turnips, peeled and quartered

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 each, fresh: sprigs of thyme, bay leaf

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp each: all purpose flour, Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp herbs de Provence

2 cups beef or chicken broth

1/2 cup frozen peas

Season lamb with salt and pepper and mix in 1 tbsp oil.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep heavy skillet set over medium high heat. Add lamb in 2 batches, searing till brown, about 5 min., turning once. Transfer to a deep bowl and reserve. 

Add onions to the skillet and brown for 5 min. Add garlic, carrots, celery and turnips, reserving the potatoes for later. Cook for 5 min, then add wine. Cook till wine bubbles, about 2 min. 

Add fresh herbs, tomato paste, flour, Worcestershire sauce, herbs de Provence and broth. Mix well, cover pot and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Uncover pot, add potatoes, cover and cook again 1 hour, stirring now and then. Add peas, cook 15 min. 

If you still have a thin sauce at the end of this cooking time, uncover pot, turn up the heat to medium high and cook off some of the sauce. You should have a thick stew with very tender lamb and vegetables by this time. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Serves four

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb Kababs In Frankfurt

For years the name 'Frankfurt' meant to us an airport rather than a city, a place where we caught a connecting flight to some other destination. We must have travelled through the airport a dozen times before we finally got a chance to spend a few days there, and that was when we discovered that Frankfurt is  a charming, historical and beautiful city that is such fun to explore! 

Frankfurt has a little bit of everything: ruins of its beginnings as a Roman town; a medieval cathedral surrounded by charming old timber houses; and sleek new skyscrapers that house some of Europe's biggest banks and financial companies. The Zeil, Frankfurt's main pedestrian shopping street, is the place to stroll, watch people, snack on food and of course, shop. The most eye catching building here is called MyZeil, with a huge vortex shaped right smack in it's middle! It's inside is equally futuristic with ramps, glass columns and lots of interesting shops.

Only a few steps from the bustle of downtown is a covered farmer's market where you can find fresh vegetables, sausages, cured meats and cheeses. It is a lovely place to browse and taste some of the best local produce.

One of my favourite things to eat in Frankfurt were the sausages and cured meats. While I couldn't get enough of the delicious Bratwurst, it was the cured meats that I found unusual. The salami and smoked sausages were often stuffed with intriguing things like broccoli, cheese and red peppers. Sliced thin and served with a variety of cheeses and crusty bread, they were fantastic.

One of the charms of travelling in Europe is sampling the foods of their immigrant populations. Over the years we have tried Indian restaurants in London, Indonesian rijstafel in Amsterdam, and Moroccan cuisine in Paris. Frankfurt and Berlin are the best places to find Turkish food. Frankfurt has excellent Turkish restaurants, but the most visible signs of its large Turkish population are the kebab stands that you find on every street. Massive rolls of Doner kebabs are grilled on vertical rotisseries and the meat shaved off in thin slices. Wrapped in a flatbread they are sold as Yufka kebabs.

My kababs are a gentle intermingling of Indian and Turkish flavours and are grilled on skewers on a barbecue. Serve them with rice or wrap them in pita bread or naan with some chopped salad and yogurt raita folded in.

For variety, try other ground meats such as chicken, turkey, pork or beef, in place of the lamb. For greater ease of preparation, you can also just shape the kababs into hamburger style patties!

Lamb Kababs With feta And Herbs

6 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

8 sun dried tomato halves (not oil packed)

1 roasted red pepper, patted dry

1/4 cup each, tightly packed (washed and dried well): fresh coriander leaves, mint leaves, parsley and crumbled feta cheese

1 egg

2 slices bread

2 tbsp Turkish Spice Blend

Salt to taste

1 lb (450g) lean ground lamb

1 lemon, halved

Combine garlic, ginger, onion, sun dried tomatoes, roasted pepper and herbs in food processor. Process until well minced. 

Add feta, egg, bread, spices and salt. Process to mix again.

Add lamb and mince well until well blended. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered for 15 min or up to overnight.

 

When ready to grill, preheat outdoor barbecue to medium heat.

With dampened hands, divide lamb mixture into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Press a skewer into each ball and gently stretch it into a 4 - 5 inch long sausage shape, moulding it with your hands and pressing gently to hold the meat in place. 

Grill skewers for about 12-15 min, turning occasionally until cooked through and lightly browned.

Transfer to a platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serves four




Cardamom Halwa Blondies In Dresden

 

Dresden is famous for the exquisite ceramic figurines that were traditionally manufactured there, and in some ways the entire city seems to have been handcrafted out of delicate porcelain. From the ornate fountains to the manicured gardens, every detail seems to have been carefully and painstakingly planned.

The city centre stretches along the banks of the Elbe river, with rows of elegant buildings overlooking the waterfront. Dresden was the capital of the kings of Saxony and their sprawling palace is still a major tourist attraction. 

It is hard to believe that almost all the buildings you see today are reconstructions of the originals, most of which were badly damaged due to bombing during the war. Over the decades, Dresden has been painstakingly rebuilt with such care that it is almost impossible to tell where the original sections end and where the reconstructions begin.

The great church in the centre of town, the Frauenkirche, is one of the landmarks of the city. We had the good fortune to be in Dresden on Easter day and had the opportunity of hearing the church choir perform Bach's music. Hearing their voices soaring under the great dome of the church was an unforgettable experience.

Dresden has an age old culture of serving coffee and cake. Some of the first coffee bars in Germany were opened here in the 17th century, although sadly, women were not allowed in. They started having their own coffee parties at home and served cake as well. This tradition of serving cake with coffee in the middle of the afternoon, known as Kaffee und Kuchen soon spread all over Germany, although It was not until the 20th century that women were finally allowed into coffee bars! 

We had some really fantastic cakes and pastries at many of the riverside cafes in Dresden. One of my favourites were blondies, which were great as a little sweet treat with coffee to revive us after a day spent sightseeing. In my version of blondies, I have added in some very Indian flavours which go surprisingly well with coffee!

Indians love halwa and often make it with flour, ghee, cardamom and sugar, with some chopped nuts folded in. In this recipe, I have folded halwa into the batter, infusing it with the lovely aroma of ground cardamom and the delicious nuttiness of browned ghee. You can taste the wonderful cakey - halwa fusion in every bite!

Cardamom Halwa Blondies

For Halwa:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

2 tsp ground cardamom

1 egg

1/3 cup all purpose flour

For Blondies:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted

To make halwa, melt butter in small heavy saucepan set over medium low heat. Stir occasionally until butter foams, then subsides and starts to brown, about 5 min.

Remove from heat and cool 15 min. Add sugar, cardamom and egg, mixing well. Add flour and mix again till well blended. Reserve at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13X9 inch baking pan with parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Reserve.

Combine brown sugar and butter in large bowl, beating well with a hand mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 min. Add eggs and vanilla, beat again till well blended. Add flour mixture by the spoonful, blending well after each addition. Fold in half the walnuts.

Spoon two thirds of the batter into prepared pan, smoothing it evenly to the edges. Add alternating dollops of prepared halwa mixture and remaining batter over top. Swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle remaining walnuts over. 

Bake for about 30 - 32 min until blondies are golden and firm, with gooey centres. Cool completely, then cut into squares and serve with coffee.

Makes 24 Blondies

Recipe inspired by Bon Appetit magazine

Beef Goulash In Prague

Prague is breathtaking. This glittering city is picture postcard perfect in every way. From the historic Charles bridge that leads the way to the city's medieval Old Town core, to grand views of the Vltava River, from narrow cobbled lanes lined with pubs and restaurants, to steep stairs leading up, up, up to heaven, from tall church spires dotting the skyline to sprawling castle complexes, this city has it all, including some really good food!  

One of the very touristy things to do in Prague is to stand around in front of the famous Astronomical Clock and admire the moving statues which pop out every hour. Tourists have been engaging in this activity since 1410 when the clock was first built, and so did we!

When we set out to explore Prague's old world charm, we quickly realized that  it would involve a lot of walking up and down Prague's famous sloping streets......

And climbing a lot of steps!

Luckily we often came upon hidden little nooks with pubs and cafés within, to rest our aching feet and sample delightful little cakes and pastries. One memorable discovery was a pub restaurant in the basement of a monastary, run entirely by monks. They made the beer in house and created fabulous dishes cooked with beer. Our favourites were the house smoked meats and beer braised goulash, all washed down with more of their excellent beer.

If you happen to be in Prague around Easter, like we were, you can stroll through the bustling Easter market held in the Old Town Square. Part food fair, part souvenirs and kitschy handicraft stalls, it is great fun to explore.

 And if you are lucky, you will catch the action on stage where dancers in traditional costume, along with singers and musicians entertain the crowds with live performances.

Make sure to sample some of the traditional fare on offer such as fire roasted doughnuts, spit roasted ham, grilled sausages, crepes, local beer and so much more. One of my favourites were the fire roasted doughnuts called Trdelník. Generously basted with butter as they rotate and cook over an open fire to a golden crust, they are given a final dusting of cinnamon, sugar and finely chopped nuts, making them completely irresistible. We couldn't stop eating them! 

One of the foods you will come across everywhere in Prague is goulash. A rich, slow simmered stew, it is generally made with beef, paprika and onions, with a bit of beer or wine sometimes added in for depth. Originally from Hungary, it is said to have been created by the Gulyás, the cow herdsmen who cooked up a rustic version in a large cauldron set over an open fire. The ingredients that they had at hand - wild onions, herbs and beef are still the basis for this age old stew, that is now popular all over Eastern Europe and beyond.

Goulash being one of the best known and best loved of all Czech dishes, we wanted to try lots of it in Prague! It seemed that everywhere we tasted it, the chef had his own interpretation of how to cook it. Sometimes it came simmered in a rich, dark beer based sauce, other times it was thin, soupy and not as flavourful.  

Czech goulash almost always never has any vegetables in it, focusing instead on the rich, meaty taste of beef, generally washed down with large tankards of local beer. 

Goulash is usually served with bread dumplings called Knedlíky, the perfect sponge for sopping up the delicious sauce!  

Bacon is key in this recipe, adding subtle smoky notes to the finished dish. You can add vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or sweet peppers to the goulash to make it more hearty and filling. I sometimes pair it with crusty bread, although the traditional way of course, is to have sliced bread dumplings with it.

Beef Goulash 

2 tbsp butter

2 medium cooking onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 slices bacon, chopped

Few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf, preferably fresh

2 lb boneless stewing beef, cut into bite sized pieces

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1 cup each: red wine, beef broth

Salt to taste

1 tsp each: toasted & ground caraway seeds (or cumin), smoked hot Spanish paprika, sweet Hungarian paprika, marjoram (or oregano), sugar

1 cup canned premium whole plum tomatoes with puree (about 6), crushed lightly 

2 tbsp each, finely chopped: fresh parsley, onion

Melt butter in deep heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, bacon, thyme and bay leaf. Saute 10 min until bacon is cooked down and onions are softened. 

Add beef cubes and brown them lightly for about 5 min. Add flour and cook 1 min. Deglaze pan with wine. Cook 2 min until it starts to bubble, then add broth, salt, all the spices and sugar. Cook 1 min, then add tomatoes. Stir to mix, cover saucepan, and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours until beef is very tender and sauce has thickened a bit, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to serving bowl, garnish with parsley and onion and serve.

Serves four

Pulled Chicken Tacos In Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Generations of college students celebrating spring break have made Fort Lauderdale famous, but no matter what time of the year you visit, the beach stretches out endlessly, the startlingly blue skies sparkle, and the warm water of the ocean invites you to dive right in. This is where the Florida of tourist dreams becomes reality! 

Finding the beach is never difficult in Fort Lauderdale since much of the city stretches out along the shore.  Hotels cluster along the waterfront, so that you only have to walk a few yards to get to the sand. Sitting on the beach in the evening, you can see a procession of ocean liners pulling out from the cruiseport, which is a favourite departure point for cruises leaving for the Caribbean and Mexico. 

Fort Lauderdale is criss-crossed by inland canals that also serve as a highway. The yellow water taxis that ply the waterways are a very convenient, and certainly the most fun, way to get around. Many of the locals have their own boats and the waterfront bars and restaurants make it convenient to  pull right up to them and drop anchor. It certainly beats trying to find a spot in the parking lot! 

During our stay in Fort Lauderdale, we spent many a pleasant evening sitting out on the deck of these waterfront restaurants, watching the boats pull up, while enjoying the freshest seafood imaginable, under the twinkling night sky. You can really taste the freshness of the seafood when it is lightly steamed and served with melted butter and a zesty seafood sauce with a hint of horseradish, to dunk it in. We also enjoyed it lightly battered and deep fried until crisp, with the seafood still moist and juicy inside. No matter how you eat it, seafood just tastes better in Fort Lauderdale!

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to The Floridian Diner for breakfast. This well known institution has been in business since 1937 and has catered to many, many celebrities, whose pictures still grace the walls. It has also been featured on Rachel Ray's TV show and is a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. 

We also got to eat fantastic Mexican food in the city. While shrimp tacos were the norm everywhere, it was the pulled chicken tacos that got us hooked! Simmered for a long time in a rich and spicy tomato based sauce, they were tender and delicious!

Really easy to make, the ingredients for the pulled chicken can be thrown together in a pot and left to simmer gently while you relax and inhale the savoury aromas wafting from the stove. Hearty, filling and comforting with the bright colours and fresh flavours of the crunchy vegetables, these tacos are perfect for any season or any night of the week!

Piled High Pulled Chicken Tacos

You can use beef or lamb in place of the chicken and add a dollop of sour cream as well! For a change of pace, serve pulled chicken and toppings on a bed of rice or in a lettuce wrap.

2 tbsp oil

1 each, finely chopped: medium onion, sweet red pepper

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 large boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 lb)

4 large canned plum tomatoes with puree (juices)

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped

1/4 cup water

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, smoked paprika, Mexican chilli powder or cayenne pepper, oregano

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

The juice of half a lemon

8 whole wheat or corn tortillas

Additional toppings such as chopped avocados, tomatoes, red onions, red cabbage, lettuce, guacamole and shredded cheese

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, sweet peppers and garlic. Saute for about 5 min until onions are lightly browned and softened.

Add chicken and brown again for 5 min. Add tomatoes, chipotle pepper, water, salt and spices. Stir to mix, cover skillet and cook on low heat for 1 hour until chicken is very tender. Uncover skillet and cook for a further 10 minutes until chicken is falling apart. 

Remove chicken to bowl and continue cooking sauce until it is very thick, another 10 min. 

Shred chicken with two forks and add back to sauce in skillet. Fold in chopped coriander and lemon juice. Transfer to serving bowl.

Warm tortillas and place on table along with chicken and assorted toppings for people to assemble their own tacos. 

Serves four

Mary Ito 013.jpg

Cuban Shrimp Creole In Miami

Miami has been called the most northern of Latin American cities, and it is easy to understand why. Cruising along the beach with the azure sky sparkling overhead, the beat of salsa music pouring out of bars and cafes, and the lilt of Spanish conversations swirling all around, it is easy to imagine yourself on some exotic tropical island. 

Miami encompasses an amazing diversity of neighbourhoods. From the picture postcard views of South Beach, where the young and beautiful congregate, to the elegant boutiques of Coral Gables, the laid-back, bohemian streets of Coconut Grove, and the music pubs of Little Haiti, you are never at a loss of places to visit. And when you have had your fill of city excitement the Florida Everglades are only a short distance away, teeming with flamingos and alligators!

The one neighbourhood that every tourist must visit is Little Havana. Miami is home to a very large Cuban community and Calle Ocho is where they come to shop, eat, and celebrate every important occasion. A favourite place to eat is the Versailles restaurant, self proclaimed to be the "World's Most Famous Cuban Restaurant". On weekends,large family groups gather here to eat, gossip and linger over endless cups of Cuban coffee. The decor inside the restaurant is inspired by the palace it is named after, with wall-to wall mirrors, chandeliers, and lots of gold gilt. 

The food at Versailles restaurant is authentic, well prepared and delicious! We sampled a variety of their seafood and pork dishes, washed down with cups of strong Cuban espresso. Cuban cuisine is a pleasing mix of Spanish, French, African and Caribbean culinary influences. Simply cooked for a long time over low heat to let the flavours develop, it is lightly spiced with cumin, oregano, garlic and pepper. 

Serve this delicious shrimp dish with diced avocados tossed with lemon juice, fresh parsley and red onions as well as black bean rice on the side.

Shrimp Creole

2 tbsp each: oil, butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 each, red and green sweet bell peppers, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cp finely chopped fresh coriander or parsley

1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, oregano

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, ground black pepper

Salt to taste

1/4 cup each: white wine, water

2 cups (about 8 large) canned plum tomatoes with juices, pureed

1 lb shelled and deveined raw shrimp

Warm oil and butter together in deep skillet set over medium heat. Add onions, peppers and garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 min until onions are softened and lightly browned.

Add fresh coriander or parsley, all the spices and salt. Cook for 1 min. Add wine and simmer for 2 min to reduce. Add water and tomatoes, cover and bring contents of skillet to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 min until sauce is slightly thickened.

Add shrimp, stir to mix, cover skillet and cook for 6-8 min or until shrimp are just done and pink. Do not overcook.

Garnish with additional fresh coriander or parsley if desired. 

Serves four

 

Key Lime Pie In Key West, Florida

When you visit Key West, you will feel transported to a different era where everything moves slowly and sitting in the shade sipping a fruity drink seems like a productive way to spend an afternoon.
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States, as tourists are reminded by a marker that indicates the exact spot where you have travelled as far south as possible. The town certainly feels tropical and locals, known as Conchs (pronounced "Conks") treasure the leisurely lifestyle of the islands, which seems a million miles away from the hustle of the big Florida cities to the north.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for many years in the 1920s and 30s, nurturing his passion for deep sea fishing while working on many of his most famous books. The Hemingway house has become a major tourist attraction and is preserved as it was when he lived there. Hemingway was a cat-lover, and the house is still occupied by the progeny of his original pet "Snowball", fed and cared for by the estate. As you walk through the house, cats sprawled luxuriously on the bed or couch will lift their heads to give you a supercilious look, annoyed at being disturbed.

Key West is also famous for its feral chickens. Descendants of birds that escaped from farms centuries ago they now overrun the streets of the city, protected by laws that prevent anyone from catching them.Tourists find them charming, many residents less so. If you are sleeping in late after a long night of partying, a chorus of crowing roosters may not be the most welcome wake-up call!

Duval Street, which cuts across downtown Key West is the heart of the entertainment district. There you will find Sloppy Joe's, which was Hemingway's favourite drinking spot, and also the World's Smallest Bar, with room for just two customers. This street is lined with cafes, restaurants, bars and shops and is great fun to explore.
Restaurants in Key West take pride in featuring it's unique cuisine - lots of fresh local seafood cooked with Cuban, Caribbean and American influences. Conch chowder, conch fritters, pink shrimp, lobster and stone crab are all delicacies you must try at least once when in Key West.

We ate at the Blue Heaven restaurant, well known for its delicious, inspired cuisine and casual, laid back ambiance. The lobster roll, black beans and rice with blackened fish and the warm, moist corn bread were fantastic but we had heard so much about it's famous Key Lime pie, we made sure to leave room for that! Reputed to be the best on the island, it was sweet, tart, creamy and addictive, all at once!  

My easy to make mini pies are perfect for serving small individual portions. The hint of coconut and cardamom in the crust makes them especially irresistible. Don't be surprised if your guests want more!

You can make one large 9 inch pie in place of these mini portion sized ones if you wish. If you don't have a mini cheese cake pan, use a muffin pan instead. 

Mini Key Lime Pies

For Crust:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs, such as Honey Maid brand

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp desiccated unsweetened coconut

2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 cup melted butter

For Filling:

1 can (300ml) sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup Key lime juice, bottled or fresh

1/2 cup fresh whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Generously spray a 12 cup mini cheesecake pan with cooking spray.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, coconut, ground cardamom and butter in large bowl. Spoon about 1 tbsp of crumb mixture into each muffin cup, pressing down gently to compact. Bake in oven for 8 min. Remove from oven (leave oven on) and cool completely to room temperature, about 15 min.

Meanwhile, make the filling by beating egg yolks with condensed milk in deep bowl. Add lime juice and beat again until well combined. Pour equally onto baked crusts in pan. Bake for about 18-20 min or until tops are very lightly brown and cake tester comes out almost clean. Do not over bake, it is OK for the centers to be slightly wobbly. They will set as pies cool.

Cool to room temperature, loosen edges of each mini pie with a knife, then cover pan with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. 

To serve, carefully remove each mini pie from pan and top with freshly whipped cream.

Makes 12 mini Key Lime pies