Wednesday, March 25, 2015

From France With Love - Ratatouille

Do you remember the singular dialogue between the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey and her butler Carson when being presented with a new, strangely decorated dish at dinner:
"Carson, is this what I'm afraid it is?"
And after trying the dish: “I wish it would have been what I thought it was."
So far the irreparable Lady Violett Crawley on food styling and mental delusion at the table.
For me, a beautiful presentation of food is definitely important because eating is a multisensory experience and we all are "eating with our eyes" as well.
It's about creating expectation and not disappointing it, of course.
Reading the papers some days ago, I stumbled about an article discussing a new movement called
"We Want Plates".
The movement defines itself as "Crusading against food being served on bits of wood and roof tiles.
Chips in little buckets, peas in flowerpots and jam-jar drinks can do one too"
And dam right they are.
I was LOL looking at the incredible pictures frustrated foodies made of their meals presented in every imaginable accessory but not on a plate.
If you want to know more about it and join the fun go to:
Of course there are certain plates that are difficult to present.
The one I'm going to post today, the wonderful French Ratatouille, is one of them.
Ratatouille is one of the typical plates of Provence, a region in the south of France that celebrates its fantastic veggies and herbs by elaborating stunning classics like Ratatouille.
The secret lies in its simplicity, no artificial flavors added, all natural and superb.
As a bonus it is really easy to prepare, suitable for health and fitness fans, vegetarians and vegans and the subtle flavors blend together perfectly.
It can be eaten on its own or as a side dish for grilled chicken,fish, meat and works great with pasta.
Here we go.

You need:
 1\2 cup of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red capsicum, seeds removed and cut into strips
1 yellow capsicum, seeds removed and cut into strips
1 large eggplant (about 250g), cut into small cubes
1 large zucchini ( about 250g), cut into small cubes
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 large ripe tomatoes ( about 400g), peeled and seeds removed, cut into large cubes
1 Bouquet garni ( 8 sprigs parsely,2 sprigs fresh thyme and one bay leaf, tied together with cooking twine)
2 spoonful of coarsely chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot, heat half of the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the capsicum.
 Remove from pot and drain over kitchen paper.
Add a bit more olive oil to the pot and sauté eggplant and zucchini.
Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is  translucent.

Then add the bouquet garni and tomatoes, bring to a boil,  cover the pan with a tight lid and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

 Just looking at the gorgeous colors is a pleasure.

Serve sprinkled with fresh basil.
(Ratatouille can be served as well cold, delicious on a hot summer day with grilled meat or fish.) 
Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a light dinner or main course.




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coming Back With Delightful Cheese Mushroom Muffins

Dear all,
although blogging and being in touch with you my friends and fellow bloggers brings me plenty of joy and happiness I needed to take some time off toget healthy again and come back with refreshing new ideas and creativity.
This was a long and unexpected break from blogging but now I'm back, my health is improving and I feel renewed with energy.
Your words of encouragement touched my heart and were truly inspiring.
It was amazing to hear that many of you went through  similar experiences and came out feeling even stronger and more confident than before. Thank you so much for your support!
But of course, my absence didn't mean that I wasn't experimenting with new recipes.
One of these experiments came from rethinking muffins in my kitchen lab.
The results are these yummylicious cheese and mushroom muffins.
Many of our friends found them quiet addicitive, they are great when you are inviting on a budget and unbelievable easy to prepare.
 You need:
 2 cups of self raising flour
2 cups of grated cheese (Pick your favorite tasty cheese, my choice was Grana Padano)
1 1/2 cup of milk
2 eggs
1 cup of roughly chopped mushrooms
1 cup of roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 cup of finley chopped onions (optional)
1 spoonful of soft butter, unsalted
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180 C.

Melt butter in a skillet and saute onions until translucent.

Add mushrooms and saute until soft.

Stir in chopped parsley, set aside.

Beat eggs in a mixing bowl until color changes to a pale yellow.

Sit flour into a large bowl.

Make a well in the flour and add all remaining ingredients.

Mix well until combined.
Fill a greased 12 hole muffin case

and bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Et Voila.

Mmh, so good with a bit of sour cream
Serves 12 p.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Shall We Dance? - It's Ball Season In Vienna


 Its ball season here and everybody is in excitement.
If you have ever dreamed of dancing the Waltz  at one of Vienna's famous balls this is the time for it.
It sounds unbelievable but over 400 balls are staged here every year with nearly 300.000 dance crazy assistants.
There are the very fancy and elegant balls like the ball of the Wiener Philharmoniker, one of the world's finest orchestras.

Poster announcing  the ball of the Vienna Philharmonics

And there is of course the glamorous Opera ball.

Here a picture of the legendary entrance of the debutants and the exquisitely decorated opera house.

The flower arrangements are fantastic and the whole atmosphere is elegant and festive.
Images of the Opera ball are broadcasted each year around the whole world.
Another beautiful event is the Hunters ball where all assistants dress in National costume ( Dirndl for the ladies and Steirer for Gentlemen)

Opening ceremony at the Hunters Ball.

And then there are of course the balls for nearly every imaginable profession:
Police, lawyers, technicians, owners of cafés , doctors,confectioners ... you name it.

Poster announcing the police ball.

Carnival masks made of chocolate.


The dress code for the most elegant balls is quite formal:
White tie and decorations ( if you own one , if not - rumor has it that some of them are bought at the flea market :) )  for gentlemen and evening gown for ladies.

For a prime loge at the opera ball you will be charged the bargain of about US$ 21.000.-!

Couples made of marcipan dancing on a sugar cloud displayed at the famous Demel pastry shop and cafe.
 By the end of carnival (Ash Wednesday) the city life returns back to normality but sometimes it seems that the whole town is just waiting for next year's carnival to come back to life again.
See you soon with new adventures,until then....I have to get dressed for the next ball :)


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hearty Hungarian Goulash Soup

I don't know about you, but here in Vienna it's freezing cold and after walking a while through the city we were longing for some warm comfort food.
For tomorrow temeratures below -6C are expected, but despite of the weather we will be visting the New Years Trail. Now you might ask - what's the New Year's Trail?
For the last night of 2014 and following a 25 year old tradition, the Vienna News Year's trail offers
12 hours of entertainment - a great way to begin the New Year.
The programe starts at 2pm with children activities and continues  from the late afternoon on with everything from live bands and DJs to free for all waltzing clases and a live broadcast from the Vienna State Opera where traditionally "Die Fledermaus" is performed.
Apart from that, countless stalls around the city offer all kinds of treats from sparkling wine to toast to the New Year to hot goulash soup, sausages and sweets to keep the visitors warm.
Every year there is a beautiful firework at one of the big squares in down town, the Heldenplatz.
At midnight, the big bell of St. Stephen's Cathedral, called the Pummerin will ring to announce 2015.
For the ones who prefere to dance into the New Year, the glittering New Year's Eve Ball in the Imperial Palace "Hofburg" will be the place to be and to enjoy a unique experience.
To keep you warm during walking through the city, Gulaschsoup is the classic  soul warmer from the Austrian-Hungarian cuisine.
Spicy, hearty and restorative, it's the star during the ball season when nights are short and people are dancing and celebrating until dawn.
Before going home, it's tradition that everybody tastes this amazing soup.
It's Hungarian roots makes it spicy and passionate and the Austrian background adds a touch of harmony and perfect balance between the different flavors, light and charming as a Viennese Waltz.
There is a "student version" of Gulash soup - lots of gravy and less meat for a small Budget and the Fiaker (carriage driver) version, adding a hearty sausage.
This dish is easy to cook, can be prepare at least 1 day in advance and is a crowd pleaser on cold Winter days.
This is what you need:

2 yellow onions, chopped
1 clove garlic,crushed
200g bacon, chopped
2 spoonful olive oil
1/2 kg stew beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 spoonful flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 spoonful sweet (Hungarian) paprika 
1/2 spoonful spicy (Hungarian) paprika 
1 spoonful tomato paste
2 beef stock homemade or low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar 
3-4 medium size potatoes, quartered
Salt, pepper
Sour cream and freshly chopped parsley for garnish

Toss beef with salt, pepper and flour.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan over high heat

Add onion and crushed garlic and fry gently until it softens and starts to turn Golden.
Add bacon, fry until golden brown, add beef, sear on all sides.

add beef, sear on all sides.

Add both paprikas, mix well until blended with the other ingredients, add tomato paste, beef stock and vinegar.

Stir thoroughly , leave covered to simmer gently for about 1 hour or until meat is soft.

Add potatoes and continue simmering until soft.
Check seasoning.
Serve warm and top with sour cream and chopped parsley.

Enjoy! Serves 8P.

Happy New Year to everybody!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Warm Apricot Punch For Cold Winter Days

Sorry, I've been late for this post.
We traveled to Vienna to spend Christmas  with our family.
Until everything is settled, luggage is unpacked and Internet is reinstalled it takes time.
I hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving, missed you all.
It's already very cold here and for Tuesday the first snow is expected.

People crowd at the beautiful Weihnachtsmaerkte (Christmas  markets) where all kind of sweets, hot chocolate, mulled wine and different kinds of punch are served.

At least one stall at every market sells for charity.
Many charity organizations, usually with voluntary helpers, are reliant on these donations. 

There are as well live concerts with Christmas music and the ambiance is beautiful and festive.

Christmas wouldn't be complete without the annual "Christmas in Vienna" in the Konzerthaus a great classical music event hosting international singing stars. This concert is broadcast on TV every year.
But before rushing to the next musical event, I would like to share with you one of my favorite punch recipes,  a highlite for every Christmas or winter party.
Apricots add a wonderful, aromatic flavor to this hot drink.

This is what you need:

750 ml apricot juice
750 ml white wine
2 star anise
4 cardamom pods, cracked
1 vainilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
75 g brown sugar
zest of 1 untreated lemon
3 table spoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 
150 ml apricot liqueur

Bring all ingredients except for the apricot liqueur to a boil, then let simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove spices and lemon zest and add apricot liqueur.
Serve hot and top with a spooon full of whipped cream ( optional)
Serves 8 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Will be back next week

Dear all,
Sorry for being late with my post.
Hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Will be back next week.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cartagena - Colombia's Caribbean Crown Jewel

After spending a week in the splendid capital Bogota we continued our journey to Colombia's Caribbean coast.
Cartagena de India is literally worlds away  from the Capital - climate, landscape, mentality, even Spanish is pronounced here in quite different.
The city was founded in 1533 by the Spaniards and become soon wealthy and powerful and turned therefor into an attractive plunder for pirates and corsairs.
For defense purposes, mighty walls and forts were built around the city and are still well preserved today.
The infamous Sir Francis Drake, a pirate in the service of  Queen Elizabeth the I. managed to conquer the city for a short time and marauded the place with his cronies.
Contemporary Cartagena is actually like two cities in one. There is the historic center, dating from colonial times and perfectly preserved and the modern part of the city with construction sites everywhere and a Skyline that resembles Miami.
Skyscrapers are pushing forward, setting limits to urban planning and the tropical way of life.
However, the rhythm of life seems relaxed, people are friendly and time is relative. You master it and don't allow time be your master.
Music is omnipresent in the streets. Caribbean sounds in one corner, Cuban Salsa in another one.
I was surprised by the Cuban presence here: Salsa, Cuban Cigars, Cuban restaurants everywhere until someone explained to me that most of Cubans here where immigrants who came via Venezuela to the nearby Cartagena.
The city's colonial heritage is charming and very much alive and we had lots of fun discovering sounds and sights.

Pegasus horses overlooking the harbour

A glimpse over the walls

Unspoiled beaches

For the romantics: a drink at the patio of the Monasterio Santa Claro Hotel at night.

Do not disturb: taking a nap in the middle of nowhere

Snow white sand and turquoise water

Taking a sunset drink at Café del Mar, on the walls of the old city

Strolling through beautiful colonial streets

The perfect balcony for Romeo & Julia

Jazzing up the evening

A building dedicated to the National Beauty Pageant. The whole week of competition  is a holiday and Cartagena comes to a standstill for a few days every November.

 View from our hotel pool over the harbor

Modern Cartagena

For the romantics: Dinner at Club the Pesca restaurant

Enjoying a gorgeous seafood risotto

A city of contrasts: beautiful old patio from colonial times

Cuban live music at a restaurant

A piece of heaven at Manzanillo beach
Cheers, hope you enjoyed the visit

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