Thursday, December 19, 2013

Celebrating With A Festive Apricot-Ginger Punch

Christmas is ante portas and I'm enjoying every minute of Advent.
Vienna is beautifully decorated and when the evening falls, the city's festive illumination creates sheer magic.
After a little family council we decided to limit presents this year to a small, symbolic amount for everybody.
Each one can choose freely if he or she wants to use this allowance for a charity donation or a small personal gift.
No pressure to consume, everything is about imagination and creativity to pick the right present or charity organization.
And surprisingly enough, everybody was fascinated by the idea.
It was incredible how awesome people reacted when we told them about the concept. What about you?
Would you be shocked, disappointed or thrilled?
We will spend Christmas at the country side, hopefully with tons of snow, family coming over from different parts of the world and , of course, singing Christmas carols.
As their is no future Luciano Pavarotti in the family, enthusiasm will have to make up for the lack of angel-like voices :)

Delicious hot drinks are part of every Holiday celebration and our is no exception.
So why not brighten up the spirit with a not so common, delicately flavored  punch?
With just a few ingredients you can achieve the wonderful, sweet scented flavor of this crowd pleasing, festive punch.
If you want to create an even richer treat, top each glass with a bit of whipped cream.
I know, I know it's sinful for the calories, but sooo good :)
Don't you think this is a time of the year where we should relax a bit about dieting?
I'm not talking about devouring - just relaxing and enjoying the seasons culinary pleasures.

Snow house and Christmas tree hand made of chocolate and marzipan at display at a pastry shop show window

A variety of traditional Austrian Christmas cookies we prepare every year at our home 

Cheesy appetizers served for the drinks 

For the Apricot - Ginger Punch

You need:
1/2 bottle white wine
1/4 l of sweetened apricot juice
2 Cinamon sticks
1 spoonful of cloves
1 thin slice of  freshly peeled ginger
75 ml of apricot liqueur
1/2 spoonful of whipped cream (optional)

Bring the white wine and the Apricot juice to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add the ginger slice during the last 5 minutes.Then dispose.
Add the Apricot liqueur and fill the mixture in punch glasses.
Top with whipped cream and serve immediately.

Serves about 4 glasses.
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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of joy to all and each one of you, dear friends!

I'll be back at the first week of the next year with new culinary


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From Spain With Love: Royal Delights

Traveling to Spain is almost like coming home for us.
We speak the language, are familiar with the mentality, love the culture, climate and the glorious food this country has to offer.
We have visited several places like Sevilla, Granada and Barcelona among others before but of Madrid we've only seen the airport Barajas so far.
Unrightfully, as I must admit.
Madrid is a lovely, vibrant city that hosts several of the worlds most beautiful museums of fine art.
Close to Madrid is the city of Toledo, once the country's capital.
Toledos Cathedral, castles, monasteries and churches are true marvels and we were fascinated by the architecture and beautiful location.
Though I have to confess that the only thing I didn't expect at all was that the city is so bitter cold in winter.
Coming from a country with long,  cold winters and being a fan of skiing and ice skating, I never thought  that in sunny Spain we would literally every hour longing to go to a place that offers hot beverages :) 

 A matter of national pride: Gorgeous hams and chorizos  at display at a shop in Madrid

A wonderful tasting seafood salad at a little restaurant in the neighborhood of hour hotel that offers lunch menus at very reasonable prices. Find the recipe at the end of the post.

A herald, bearing the kings code of arms, is looking contemplative since centuries at the visitors of Toledos' Cathedral.

A seven-branched candelabrum on the road  to the Jewish quarter, Toledo

View of one of the breathtaking beautiful churches of Toledo

Another breathtaking beauty: Manuscript of the bible of Saint Luis from the 13th Century

Cute marketing: Vitrine of a pastry shop showing nuns preparing delicate sweets  which you can buy in the same shop.

Sweets on display at the same shop

A small shop selling the famous Spanish Saffron, Toledo

Entrance to the Cathedral, Toledo

Colorful, handmade ceramics, Toledo

A Gothic style window in one of the monasteries with a view at a gorgeous orange tree bearing fruits in December despite of the cold in Toledo 

Historic Chef : Portrait of George Washington's cook by Stuart Gilbert 1755-1828, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

A delicious selection of typical appetizers, Madrid

 Selection of tapas on display at the market hall, Madrid

Visitors crowding at the market hall in Madrid, enjoying  wine and tapas (the typical Spanish appetizers)

Mediterranean prawn salad

We had this wonderful tasting seafood salad at a little restaurant in the neighborhood of our hotel that offers lunch menus at very reasonable prices.
After coming back to Vienna, I tried to recreate this amazing salad and, according to my fiercest critics (best husband of all & sons :) ), it was a total success.

Mediterranean Shrimp Salad
1 1/2 ripe but firm finely chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 spoonful finely chopped spring onions (only the green part)
1/2kg unpeeled shrimps
1/2 cup extra virgin Spanish olive oil
 (best quality guarantees best results)
1 spoonful mild white vinegar
2 spoonful of prawn stock for the dressing
11/2 cup prawn stock to simmer the shrimps
1 spoonful freshly squeezed orange juice
Peel and devein shrimps.
Prepare shrimp stock:
1/4 cup canola oil
Shrimp shells from 1/2 kg shrimps
Heat oil in a large saucepan and cook shells until toasted, stirring frequently ( you want them to release their flavor only, not to brown them too much)
Add about 2 cups cup of water or until shells are covered.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. 
Press shells down with a spatula to extract the flavor.
Cook about 7-8 minutes.
Strain stock, season with salt and pepper, discard solids and let cool down. 

Apart, bring shrimp stock to a simmer in a large saucepan.
Add peeled shrimps and cook until opaque, about 5 minutes.
During the last 30 seconds add spring onions.
Strain, set apart and let cool down..
Mix shrimps and spring onions with the tomatoes.
Apart, prepare the dressing:
Mix shrimp stock,olive oil. vinegar and orange juice until creamy.
Pour over the salad, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Mix well and let rest at least for 10 minutes before serving.
Bon appétit!

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fillet Of Sole Baked En Papillote (In Baking Parchment)

Holiday Season is here and who doesn´t enjoy all the celebrations and wonderful treats
Everybody seems to make his or her best effort in preparing amazing dishes and desserts.
In our family, as in most others, socializing, eating and drinking go together. Maybe mine is a bit more over-conscious or, as Erma Brombeck says: "I come from a family, where gravy is considered a beverage". So before it all gets somehow out of hands, I try to lighten things up a bit with this recipe so  we all can enjoy a delightful dish - sans regrets.
Keeping t lean land healthy doesn´t mean, that you have to sacrifice flavor or your waistline.
This recipe proofs it.
It's delicious, fool proofed and budget friendly.
En Papillote is french and means actually "in Parchement" because the fish is steamed in it's own juices in a Parchment or foil packet, creating this way a delicate and aromatic dish.
These days, most cooks use aluminum foil instead of parchment. The fish cooks faster and, if you open the packet before the food is done, it's easy to reseal and return it to the oven.
As I used lemon and acid ingredients react with the aluminum foil and may cause an unpleasant taste, I lined the foil with Parchment paper first.
The advantage  of using foil is that the food cooks faster and it's easier to seal it tightly. 
Adjust the cooking time according to the thickness of the fish.  .
You need: 

1 12x20 inch aluminum foil

2 fillets of sole,flounder or sea bass (about 6 ounces)
1/2 organic lemon, quartered
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 medium garlic cloves,unpeeled
Olive oil to brush the parchment paper
Salt,freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika to season
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

For each packet,brush one side of the parchment with olive oil.
Line the foil with Parchment paper.

Fold the foil in half to make a 12x10 inch rectangle.
Sprinkle the fillets with salt,pepper and sweet paprika and put  on one side of the foil.
Add 2 sprigs of rosemary,  2 quartered lemons and 1 garlic clove. Fold the other half of the foil over. Tightly crimp the edges to seal.

Place packet on a baking sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes,depending on the thickness of the fish.
When done,  open the packet carefully and serve in foil on a plate or remove the ingredients to a plate, making sure not to leave the precious juices behind.

Bon appétit!
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Express Limoncello Syllabub With Amaretti

Preparing an amazing dessert for the Holidays is a must-spending hours in the kitchen to cook is optional:)
One of my closest friends, Ursula, a school principal,loves to cook and entertain, but is always short of time and has therefore created several delicious express recipes.
Her Limoncello dessert is everybody's darling and she was generous enough to share it with us.
As I wanted to try something different this year for the Holidays- no sweet potatoes and no pumpkin had to sacrifice their veggie life for this delicious sweet treat.
It's super easy to prepare, full of flavor and the hint of summer aromas of this syllabub will bring a bit of sunshine to your table during the colder days of the year.
Limoncello, a delightful lemon flavored liquor produced in Southern Italy is the shining star of this dessert.

It is not difficult to find in larger supermarkets and well assorted liqueur stores and I just learned when preparing this post,that Dany de Vito has even his own brand (I don't know if his Limoncello is as good as his acting though :-))

This is what you need: 

3/4 cup of Limoncello
the zest 3 organic lemons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
11/2 cup of Greek Yoghurt
1/2 cup of Mascarpone
1 cup of brown granulated sugar (I run out of it, this is why I used white sugar)

Cut off both ends of the lemon, then grate the zest.

 Cut  zest into smaller pieces.

Put lemon juice,Limoncello,1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, lemon zest and sugar in the blender and blend until mixture is smooth and creamy.
in an other bowl soften the Mascarpone.
Gently mix  Greek yoghurt and the Mascarpone until smooth.

 Add the Limoncello mix and stir again until all ingredients have blend in.

Serve in wine or cocktail glasses and sprinkle with crushed Amaretti.

Serves 4-6.
Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving!
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From Rome With Love: Delectable Pumpkin Crostinis

Do you enjoy traveling?
Most people would affirm, I suppose.
The issue is when it comes to unpacking. There are those who let their suitcase "rest" for a few days before they empty their luggage and there are those who have to unpack immediately as soon as they walk over their own doorstep. 
I'm rather a member of the frenetically unpack ASAP club - even when coming home after midnight.
We just returned from a short trip to Rome where we used to live for two years and... we came home after midnight. Guess what I did?
Anyhow, it was a wonderful trip and the memories will stay on.
It was so beautiful to come back, see our friends there and enjoy the charm of La Bella Roma. 
It felt as if we would have never left, walking the narrow streets of the city center, visiting our favorite restaurants and bars (Just want to clarify before you might think that we are totally devoted to alcohol that a bar in Italy is actually a cafe) :)
We also visited an exceptional exhibition about Cleopatra in a lovely old monastery called the Chiostro del Bramante.
The queen conquered the eternal city by storm.
Visitors are streaming to the Chiostro to pay tribute to Cleopatra much the same as the Roman emperors Julius Cesar and Marcus Antonius did at the time of the Roman Empire.   
Here are a few of our Roman Impressions I would like to share with you.

Evening light at the Ponte Milvio. Couples in Rome have long been attaching padlocks to the bridge as symbols of love.

A sculpture watching over the bridge

A delicious treat with fresh Carpaccio di Manzo , Ruccola and shaved Parmesan at a restaurant at the Campo di Fiori.

Strolling Piazza del Popolo on Sunday afternoon

Any idea how he does this"meditation" trick?

Would H.M. be amused?

And finally a delectable Italian treat, presto and with only 5 ingredients for a surprising, easy holiday appetizer.
For the Pumpkin Crostini you need:

1 small baguette
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups coarsly shredded pumpkin
1 cup coarsly shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt, freshly ground pepper
basil leaves for decoration

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
Add chopped onions,cook until traslucent.

Add shredded Pumpkin and cook for only 2 minutes or until al dente (do not overcook) 

Season with salt and pepper.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the baguette into 1/2 inch slices.

Cover generously with the pumpkin mixture.

Spread with shredded Parmesan. 

Bake until cheese has melted (7 to 10 minutes) and turned into a golden brown color. 

Garnish with fresh Basil leaves and serve immediately

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