Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Tales of Risotto

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Several years ago I visited Lake Como and was given a cookbook “Tales of Risotto, Culinary Adventures from Villa d’ Este”.

Tales of Risotto

Tales of Risotto

It includes 50 risotto recipes typical of northern Italy; and has some worthwhile tips. While most risotto recipes call for Arborio rice, this book recommends Carnaroli rice.  Although Carnaroli might have been selected because of geographic preferences, the authors point out that the rice has an advantage. Carnaroli rice doesn’t get mushy as you overcook it; which is a real plus for the home chef because you don’t need to watch it as closely as the more popular Arborio.

Carnaroli Rice

Most risotto recipes begin with sauteing onions or shallots in olive oil, but this cookbook suggests using butter. We should not be surprised, because butter is often substituted for olive oil in northern Italy. Although the butter will not make the dish more dietetic, it does make the risotto rich and creamy.

Lastly, while you constantly read how Italians frown on adding cheese to seafood dishes; this cookbook heartily recommends fresh Parmesan cheese be added to seafood risottos.

I made a Shrimp risotto with asparagus; and I added a healthy amount of Parmigiano Reggiano on top.

Risotto with Shrimp & Asparagus

Carnaroli rice, butter, and Parmigiano Reggiano will make your shrimp risotto delizioso.

Restocking the Pantry

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

I will be moving to a new apartment in a couple weeks, and that’s the perfect excuse to restock the pantry. Although there is no perfect rule on when you should toss out your old herbs and spices, most sources say every 1 -2 years. The bottom line is that if the herb or spice still has good flavor then it’s fine. But we are all guilty of having things sit around for years.

Moving has peaked my interest into tossing out some of the older items; but perhaps Spring cleaning or just needing to add a little spice into your life will get you motivated. There is an upside…you get to buy new herbs and spices, and your meals will come to life!

Have you ever been to Kalustyans on Lex and 28th Street in NYC? It’s amazing. It started in 1944 selling Indian spices, and now it’s a cornucopia of flavors. We are lucky because today there are hundreds of good places around the world to buy herbs and spices, including many Outdoor Food Markets.

With the upcoming move, I’m too busy to shop at specialty stores, so I am going to rely on Penzeys Spices. I have ordered from them for years.

Penzeys Spices Catalog

You can order online or by telephone (800-741-7787).  Their 60 page catalog has a huge selection, and I’ve always been impressed with their quality.

I’m going to order: Adobe Seasoning, Aleppo Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon, Cumin, Herbes de Provence, Oregano, Sage, Tellicherry Peppercorns, Thyme and Turmeric.

Let’s start cooking!


Gigondas & Vacqueyras

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Gigondas and Vacqueyras are two AOC wine regions in the Southern Rhone region of France. Although these wines are not the most famous from that region, they are some of my favorites. These wines feature the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes; with Grenache being the predominant grape. A typical Gigondas would have 80% Greneache, 15% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre.

I love these wines because they are robust, well-balanced and reasonably priced ($20-30). The Syrah gives the wine excellent structure, while the Grenache softens the wine with bright fruit. The result is a medium to full bodied wine that can age reasonably well, but can be enjoyed early. One standout from Gigondas is Chateau de Saint Cosme. Although they make several single vineyard wines which are more expensive, their standard Grenache is about $30.  You can read more about the winery here.

Vacqueyras is located just south of Gigondas, and it received AOC status in 1990. Vacqueyras would normally have more Syrah than Gigondas. One wine from Vacqueyras that I enjoy is Domaine Le Couroulu.

Bottle of Domaine Le Couroulu

Domaine Le Couroulu is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre, and costs about $20. This estate was named after the Curlew bird; which is depicted on their wine label. Although their label is quite playful, the wine making is quite serious. This wine is spicy, bold, and very well made. It’s a great value; and I’d certainly recommend it with any hearty dish.


Iceboats on Mecox Bay

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

It’s wintertime and the cold weather has arrived. Although last winter was quite mild, I am sure many of you can recollect those prior years when January was frigid. I remember when I was in high school and we cherished that deep freeze. All my friends would gather at the local golf course and go ice skating. In New York where I grew up, most of the skaters were not very talented, but everyone had fun.

A few years ago in Bridgehampton I went to see if Mecox Bay had frozen over. It certainly had; but instead of skaters there were Ice Boats. These colorful contraptions are a cross between a sled and a sailboat.

Colorful Iceboats

Mecox Bay is a small body of water between Bridgehampton and Water Mill. It’s a very picturesque setting that abuts the beach on the Atlantic Ocean with the periphery dotted with magnificent homes.

The Blade Runner

You would think that these boats were gearing up for the National championships with the fanciest of equipment. But no, it was just a cold day and people were showing off their toys.

Iceboat Fan

Even though the weather was freezing, plenty of people came out to enjoy the spectacle. Although many fans were enthusiastic, the “best fan” goes to the chap above in the red plaid jacket.

Enjoy winter!


Provence – a Few Gems in the Luberon

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A friend asked me the other day what he should see on his upcoming trip to Provence. Looking back on my 6 weeks there, my fondest memories were not the typical Top 10 attractions listed in guide books, but were a few unique and charming experiences that reflected the local color and everyday life. I would certainly recommend…

Lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou is a must; it’s located about 15 minutes south of St. Remy. The first time I drove up to this restaurant I could smell the lamb chops before getting out of the car; but I didn’t have a reservation. But I returned and fell instantly in love. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere with a fixed menu; like eating in somebody’s home. You get three extraordinary courses plus a never ending cheese course. I think the waiter brought the cheese platter by 3 times; and yes it’s that good. You will be there most of the afternoon, and mostly likely make friends with everyone seated around you.

Lourmarin was the town I kept returning to for its farmers’ market, restaurants and  boutiques. The farmers’ market was held every Friday morning, and I went every week. The truck selling olives and tapenade was spectacular.  We also got to know the woman selling raspberries; they were always perfect.

Truck selling Tapenades

Cheese was another highlight of the market. You can buy some excellent goat cheese in NYC, but they pale in comparison to those sold here. I have never seen such an extensive selection. In fact the market sells just about anything you would need for dinner: vegetables, herbs, chicken, sausage, wine, and even flowers for the table. But the vendor that really caught my attention was the one selling tomato tarts with the flakiest pastry crust…delicious. After the market I enjoyed lunch at L’Oustalet; their soups were a standout. Although Lourmarin is a small town, you won’t be disappointed with their boutiques.

Oppede-le-Vieux (not Oppede le village) is a historic village with a mix of a few very fashionable residences (Ridley Scott lives here) and crumbling ruins.

Notre Dame d’Alidon

This village has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. In 1274 the Popes took control of the town followed by the Barons d’Oppede in the 16th Century. In 1793 an earthquake decimated the town, but you can still see the remains of the spectacular chateau. Notre Dame d’Alidon,  a Romanesque church, is still however surprisingly intact. The setting is breathtaking. You will be able to enjoy the scenery, soak up the history, but not have to share it with the tour buses.

My favorite experience in the Luberon was lunch at Castelas, a working goat farm at the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. It is located up a dirt road outside the town of Silvergues, miles from civilization. Although I hear they serve dinner, we went for Sunday lunch. As we entered the stone gates I saw picnic tables set up and goats roaming everywhere.

Tables at the Goat Farm

Actually later in the afternoon the pigs were let out, so I hope you like animals. Plastic pitchers of wine were set on the table and the platters of food just kept coming. Waiters brought grilled vegetables, meats, sausages, and of course cheese. You feel like you are on the top of the Alps with true “farm to table” cooking – amazing.


Provence is a place that exudes quaintness and color. Visit a few of the smaller hill towns like Menerbes, Bonnieux, and Saignon and wander the cobblestone streets.

House in Saignon

The local architecture is gorgeous. Many homes are made of stone with terracotta roofs. In contrast, their doors and window shutters are often painted in pastels. These greens, blues, and yellows will catch your eye, and hopefully warm your heart.