“Foodie” vacations are usually to countries like France, Italy or China. But Jamaica? Sun, surf, music and, dare we forget, ganja, of course, but food? So how fabulous to find it is also a haven for some mighty fine dining.
On a recent trip with my two adult daughters, both huge food fans, it was no surprise to find the food at Chris Blackwell’s Golden Eye Resort to be very good, considering it’s a world-class luxury hotel. By all accounts Mr. Blackwell’s chefs have been serving “farm to table” fare before Brooklyn became hip and those 3 words became an overly-used tagline.
The three of us were on a mother/daughter bonding trip. One coming in from the cold back East, one from a damp fall college semester in London, and I was coming from sunny Southern California to celebrate one of those big number birthdays!
We were all on the same page as to what we wanted to do. Nothing. Lay in the sun, swim in the green/blue bath temperature sea, read beach books, and sit by the pool sipping fruit infused drinks decorated with paper umbrellas. (Made with Mr. Blackwell’s private label rum.) Naps were nice, as well. Again, because we were staying at Golden Eye we figured we would eat well, but none of us counted on the OMG moments we had. Several times!
Chicken Paprikash, one of Hungary’s signature comfort food dishes, is made with the country’s quintessential ingredient - paprika. Perhaps not as famous as the better known Goulash, it is still found on nearly every menu and is a common recipe in most Hungarian homes. I was in Budapest for the first time a few months ago and loved the city, in fact I’m already planning a return trip.
Condé Nast Traveler recently published its annual Readers' Choice Awards and the "30 best cities in the world" list, which named Budapest, Hungary, as the second-best city in the world, right below Florence, Italy. It’s no wonder – a thriving vibrant city, rich in culture, a complex history, world renowned spas, and gorgeous architecture – there’s something for everyone in Budapest. Although it helped to have some friends who live in Hungary, I found the city easy to navigate and fun to explore, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a new travel destination.
After researching a few hotels, I opted for the relatively new Aria Hotel Budapest, a stately 19th century bank building transformed into a luxurious boutique hotel centrally located just down from St. Stephen's Basilica. After settling into my spacious and modern music themed “Leonard Bernstein” room, I headed downstairs to Aria’s Satchmo's Bar (which offers both lunch and dinner served either inside or outside on the terrace) to meet with Balázs Váradi-Szabó and learn about the hotel’s cuisine. Balázs, their incredibly knowledgeable food and beverage manager, explained that the current menu in many ways reflects the hotel itself – “classic Hungarian with a modern twist.” Patrons hoping to sample the famed Paprikash can expect a deconstructed version which can be found on their inspired menu as a warm appetizer - the “Hortobágyi éclair” features tender paprika chicken wrapped in a soft crepe-like pastry.
In other places in the world, September is the month that the heat of summer gives way to the welcome chill of fall. Sadly for those of us in L.A., September is just a cruel extension of August…but with more traffic.
And if you, like me, are looking to keep the heat out of the kitchen this fall, here’s another skinny dish you can make on the grill that’s easy enough for a weeknight supper yet festive enough for a weekend party: Southwestern Spiced Salmon with Black Bean, Cucumber and Mango Salsa.
Without much effort (unless you consider opening a can of beans a work-out), this delicious dinner can be made on the fly in less than 30 minutes. Or, if you’re cooking for a crowd, the salmon can be seasoned and the salsa can be prepared ahead and you can have dinner plated and served in just 20!
But the real magic isn’t just how easy it is…it’s how satisfying and nutritious it is…
It’s been a very, very short summer. I am not at all happy that 2 of my 3 kids are returning to school this Tuesday. WTF…it’s mid August! Packing lunches, getting up early(not a problem for me, but for them-YES), and routine is all part of this weeks drill.
Honestly speaking, I barely cooked this summer. It felt great to take a break, yet with school two days away it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen. Shopping, prepping, and organizing has filled my weekend. Cookies and brownies are made and frozen (perfect snack for the lunch box), farmers market organic fruits are flash frozen (great for morning smoothies), salad dressings are made and bottled, veggies are washed, meat and chicken are grilled (for easy sandwiches or simply served on their own), and the meal planning has begun!
Spending 30 or so minutes each morning on prep will allow me to get these nutritous and balanced meals on the table each night. Tonight’s dinner is one of my favorites. Combining all the ingredients in the morning allows the meat to marinate all day. Shaped into balls, skewered, and grilled, this is one of those perfect 30 minute meals.
Last weekend I found myself alone in the house for like a day, something that never happens. I immediately turned the television to HGTV so I could watch hours upon hours of House Hunters episodes. Then I made myself a big batch of quinoa! My husband does not consider quinoa a meal or a favorite, but it was just me and HGTV and this dish. Total bliss.
I love Spanish flavors, it reminds me of being in Spain and driving around the countryside. If you’ve ever driven through the heart of Spain then you know it is filled with olive trees. They have something like 700 million olive trees planted there, the scenery is an endless blur of them.
The olive influence is apparent in Spanish cuisine with all the olive oil produced there. But saffron and figs also make a big appearance in many Spanish dishes. I have had some of the best and some of the strangest food in my travels through Spain, but the big, bold flavors have always stuck with me.
The olives give this dish a savory and salty taste, but the saffron is apparent in every bite. One would think the figs would play a larger role in sweetness, but they are just a nice background flavor. I would serve this with fish or grilled chicken for a light summer meal.
The other day I received a flyer advertising a romantic Caribbean get-away. It showed a scantily clad, deliriously happy couple lounging on the beach, cocktails in hand. I ripped it in half and tossed in the recycle bin. When you're married to someone whose Twitter handle is @Dermdoc, lying on the beach isn't in your future. Consider this: Last summer when our local Target ran out of sunscreen, they called us.
So the only thing worth going to the Caribbean for would be the food. Caribbean food is a fusion of many cuisines including African, Ameri-Indian, French, and Spanish making, making it deliciously unique. Given its temperate climate, the Caribbean produces an astounding array of exotic fruits such as passionfruit, guava, cherimoyas, and coconuts which feature prominently in both sweet and savory dishes. And their beloved jerk seasoned meats and fresh fish, are often accompanied by two of my favorite foods: plantains and black beans.
Caribbean black beans and rice. If you've never had it, I'm sorry; you've been missing out. I had my first taste about 12 years ago in an eclectic Caribbean restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. I was smitten and still am.
Greek cuisine features many great snacks and nibbles from olives to pastries and dips. An easy dip to make is skordalia. Recipes vary regionally, but generally feature garlic, extra virgin olive oil and potatoes though sometimes egg yolks, almonds or bread as well. The problem for me is raw garlic which gets more and more potent over time. The solution? Roast garlic.
Roast garlic is sweet and soft and most important, mellow. It won't overpower most dishes like this skordalia inspired dip made with potatoes, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and roast garlic, instead of raw. Not only is this dip good for Passover, it's vegetarian (vegan if you use vegan mayo) and gluten free! That is if you use a gluten free mayonnaise, which adds additional creaminess to the dip.
On a trip to Northern Spain in the spring, I discovered pintxos.
In Spanish bars, the appetizers served with beverages are tapas (about which everyone knows), pintxos and bocadilas. There's an easy way to distinguish one from the other. No bread on the plate, it's tapas. One slice of grilled bread, pintxos. Two pieces of bread (or a roll), bocadillas.
Bar food can be as simple as a bowl of beer nuts, but in Spain having a bite to eat in a bar means something very different.
On the trip, we ate elaborately designed pintxos with shrimps riding bareback on saddles of caramelized onions and smoked salmon that topped freshly grilled slices of sourdough bread.
Others featured anchovies with hardboiled eggs, whole roasted piquillo (small red peppers) stuffed with tuna fish, prosciutto wrapped around wild arugula leaves, delicately thin omelets rolled around finely chopped seasoned tomatoes and flat strips of roasted red bell peppers topped with slabs of brie and an anchovy fillet.
The invention and flavors of pintxos are unlimited. Think of wonderfully supportive flavors and textures to place on top the solid foundation of a thin slice of grilled bread and you have a beautiful and tasty appetizer to go with an ice cold beer, glass of crisp white wine or a refreshing summer cocktail like fresh fruit Sangria.
My improvisational style of cooking involves templates. Especially when it comes to cold noodles. I hate thinking of them as “salads” since that implies a “dressing” that is at the forefront. Instead, they’re bowls of cool freshness, or fresh coolness. When it’s hot I want a flavor bomb, some spice and not a lot of fat. That fat part? Speaking not from a diet perspective but from a mouth feel. Hot weather eating cries out for something clean, with a defined flavor profile. Not sludgy. So I tend to look toward Asia for flavor influence.
These spontaneous noodles come together with whatever I happen to have on hand. This time I used rice noodles which are perfect for hot weather since you don’t really need to boil them. I bring water to the boil, add the noodles and turn off the heat. The rice noodles soften in a matter of minutes. Drain them and squeeze out more of the water and you’re ready to toss them with the Nuoc Cham. I like tossing the noodles in the sauce then putting them in the refrigerator to cool and soak while I prepare the rest of the ingredients. You can also prep the veggies and let them marinate in the sauce while you cook the noodles.
On a trip to the southern tip of Baja California, I heard about Tequila Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, twenty minutes east of its better known cousin, Cabo San Lucas. Enrique Silva, co-owner and chef, introduced me to one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Camarones al Tequila.
He serves the shrimp with sides of black beans and fried plantains, which were great, but a bit impractical for my kitchen so I’ve adapted the recipe.
For a side, I think rice, pasta, or steamed spinach works just as well. The tequila-garlic sauce gives plenty of flavor. Add a green salad and you have the perfect, easy-to-prepare meal.
The tequila should be white and inexpensive. Save the good stuff for your guests.