Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brie en Croute with dried cherries, pecans and honey
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed out in the refrigerator
8 oz. wheel of brie, top rind removed
2 Tbsp. dried cherries, softened in hot water for 2 minutes, drained
   and patted dry
1/4C toasted hazelnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. honey
egg glaze:  1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 400F.  Roll out puff pastry to a 14-inch square.  Place brie in the center.  Mix the cherries, hazelnuts and honey together and press into the top of the brie.  Gather up the opposite corners of the puff pastry at the top of the brie to make a little package.  Brush with egg glaze.  Make a few slits in the edges with a knife.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  Let rest 30 – 40 minutes.  Serve with crackers

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Butternut Squash soup with sautéed apples and white cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, thinly sliced
3/4C apple cider
1-3/4 lb. butternut squash
4-1/2C chicken stock
1/2C cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 McIntosh apple, cut into ½-inch dice
1/3C coarsely shredded white cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut butternut squash in quarters and place, cut sides down, in a glass dish.  Roast 30 minutes or until tender.  Let cool, remove seeds and scoop of the flesh.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a pan; add the onions and sauté until golden.  Add the apple cider and cook until syrupy.  Add the squash puree and chicken stock and bring to a boil, simmer, slightly covered until vegetables are very tender.  Puree the soup in a food processor and return to the pan.  Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Heat a small sauté pan, add the butter and diced apple and cook over medium high heat until the apple is tender and golden around the edges.  Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with white cheddar, sautéed apples and Italian parsley.
MAKES:  6 servings

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sicily, Italy, September, 2014
Arrived in Palermo about 7:00 a.m. on the overnight ferry from Naples.  Walked to Liberta (, my little b&b, which was only 10 minutes from the porto, left my luggage, picked up a map and set out to see Palermo.

First stop, a pastry shop!!!  Had a delicious little apple pastry and coffee and then walked down the main street to the Antonio Pasqualino Museum of Marionettes.  It was a wonderful museum filled with shadow puppets from India, small ones from Indonesia, puppets from Indian, Africa and Japan and even a little stage where you could watch a video of the famous Sicilian Pipi puppets. 

On down into the historical part of town where I visited some churches and the Vucciria market which actually has gotten quite small.  THE market to visit is actually the Ballaro Market filled with fruits and vegetables which I decided to visit in the morning.  Back to V. Emanuele street to the famous quattro canti, baroque buildings, with near-identical facades which contain fountains and statues of the four seasons.  Also walked by the enormously gorgeous fountain in piazza Pretoria designed in Florence in 1554 for a villa but acquired by Palermo 20 years later. 

Next stop the Duomo (cathedral), a massive structure but very beautiful inside.  I first visited the treasury with its rich vestments, chalices and the bejeweled cap-like crown of Constance of Aragon and then the crypt containing about 20 marble tombs with elaborate sculptures.  Took a break at a little café for a honey croissant and then on to the Capella Palalina in the Palazzo Reale.  Considered the apex of the Arabe-Norman collective genius it was built from 1130 to 1140 and adorned with Byzantine mosaics.  Reminded me of the Russian and Turkish churches with every part of the walls and ceiling covered with beautiful mosaics representing different saints, etc.  At one time it was the king’s chapel – really amazing. 
I thought about taking a tour of theTeatro Massimo but then decided I had seen enough for one day and returned to the hotel.  Checked into an adorable little room and then Carmen and her husband told me about some other things I should see and later sent to off to one of their favorite restaurants, Osteria Mercere.  It was close but a bit too modern for me.  I ordered a half portion of spaghetti with clams and mussels and grilled fish, both were delicious. 

In the morning I walked to the Ballero Market which took up about three streets and was filled with fresh fruit and vegetable stands.  Delicious breakfast on the terrace when I returned to the hotel, i.e. ricotta filled croissant, strong coffee and melon.  Carmen called my hotel in Taormina to get directions and off I went to pick up the rental car.  It took about 4 hours to get to the Castelmola exit and I drove up and up until I found Villa Almoezia.  The owner was delightful and helped me park my car, showed me where to walk down to the historical center and made a reservation at the restaurant nearby!!!

ALOT of stone steps down into the town and as I was just about to reach the main street I walked through the terrace of a restaurant and saw some guests eating what looked like delicious tiramisu.  Sooo, I sat down at a little table and ordered one for myself.  It was delicious, especially with a tiny cup of strong coffee after such a long drive.

Walked along the cobbled streets through little shops, old churches like St. Catherine’s, small piazzas to the Duomo outside of which music was being played by some fiddlers.  Wandered through the lovely villa communal gardens created by a Scottish lady who was “invited” to leave England after a well-publicized romance with the future King Edward VIII, son of Queen Victoria.  There is also a Greek ampitheatre to visit as well.  I walked back up to my hotel before it got too dark and sat outside and enjoyed the panorama – it was lovely.  A cat even came by and sat on my lap for a bit – felt like home.
So Glad I didn’t have to walk down all those stairs again in the dark to find a restaurant and instead just walked 5 minutes to where my host had suggested I dine.  I sat at outside on the terrace overlooking the town and ordered a half portion of pasta with eggplant, swordfish and pine nuts with a side dish of arugula to mix in.  It was delicious as everything seems to be here, especially with such a view.

Walked around Castelmola in the morning and had some Italian cakes for breakfast which were a bit dry and uninteresting for such a lovely place…It was raining a bit when I left but by the time I reached the Parco Archeologico della Napoli in Siracusa it was a lovely day.  Parked the car somewhere near the entrance and spent a couple hours wandering to the Teatro Greco with its seats hewn from rock, the paradise quarry where many of the stones were hauled from to erect the great monuments of Syracuse and the very interesting Cave Caravaggio dubbed “Ear of Dionysius” because of its unusual shape.  Nearly 200 feet long, the story goes that the despot Dionysius used it to force prisoners into the “ear” at night.  On to the roman amphitheatre where gladiators faced each other and slaves died fighting wild beasts…

Across the bridge and over to the Ortygia Island where I stayed.  Finding a parking place was a very big challenge but I did succeed!  Found Atrio, my very nice b&b and then set out to wander the island.  First stop was Viola for a jam pie slice and coffee and then to Piazza Duoma and piazza Archimede with its lovely baroque fountain festooned with dancing jets of water and sea nymphs.  Followed the “shore” and ended up at the teatro dei pupi for my 6:30 p.m. puppet show.  I had ordered a ticket in advance and was glad I did as there was quite a line of people trying to buy tickets.  It was a traditional story of a man on a quest and the marionettes were about 5 feet high.  Music was a bit strange but from my second row seat it was wonderful!!!  Afterwards I had a very tasty dinner at le vin de l’assassin bistrot, sitting at an outside table, i.e. salmon with pistachio crust, couscous with nuts and dried fruits and a few greens – excellent.

Walked around the island in the morning and then had a wonderful breakfast outside on the terrace, chocolate croissant, different Italian pastries and cookies, melon and grapes and, of course, the robust Italian coffee.  Headed to Arigento but first stopped in Noto, considered to be one of the most beautifully built cities in Europe.   I wandered down corso vittorio emanuele to piazza municipio housing the large duomo and the palazzio viddadorata with its extravagant balconies supported by sculptured buttresses of horses, cherubs, etc. and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the old city. 

Arrived in Agrigento about 4 p.m.  I had taken a couple cookies from breakfast and was glad I did as I didn’t have time to stop for lunch – it turned out to be a longer drive than I had anticipated!!!   I parked near the entrance and entered the Valle de tempi, one of the most outstanding examples of greater Greece art and architecture and a UNESCO heritage site.  The valley includes the remains of seven temples including the very well preserved Temple of Concordia with its tall columns, the Temple of Juno built in the 5th century BC and the Temple of Heracles, the largest of the temples with several columns still remaining.

Once I had finished touring I called my hotel, Le Cinque Novelle, and the owner came out on his motorcycle to guide me into town and showed me where to park the car.  It was a lovely room and the hotel was perfectly located in the centro storico!!!  I walked about 10 minutes to La Posata di Federico II where I enjoyed Pasta alla norma famous in Sicily plus a plate of arugula to mix in.  The sauce was filled with pieces of eggplant and tossed with spaghetti draped over some roasted eggplant halves and sprinkled with Parmesan – really quite tasty.
In the morning a walked around the old town, up and down the ancient cobble-stone streets which lead to churches or old houses crumbly with neglect…Breakfast was the very best so far!!!  Set before were several different Italian pastries, filled with ricotto or nuts or chocolate plus some savory pastries as well PLUS delicious coffee and fruit.  I think the Italian pastries I have experienced on this trip are some of the best I have ever eaten anywhere in all my travels so far!!!!

Easy drive to Trapani as long as I paid attention making sure I was on the autostrada and not the 115.  Arrived at Porta della botteghelle, my hotel, about 1 p.m. using the great directions I was given in Arigento!!!  Nice little hotel in the old part of town.  The town sits on the sea and is charming.  I walked up to the piazza garibaldi and caught the bus to the funicular and took the funicular up to Erice, an ancient medieval city.  On the funicular I met a lady from Slovakia and we spent the day together.  We first stopped at a little café for coffee and pastries and then wandered up and down the old streets to the castles, old churches and up to the top of mount erice for a great panorama.  It was delightful!!!  Funicular down to the bus stop, bus stop to the piazza where we said good-bye. 

I wandered around the old city until it started to get dark and then had dinner at Salirossa, an ecletic café.  Started with a romesco “dip” with little pastries to dip in it.  Cooked pickled tuna with onion, vinegar and capers was my first course and it was served cold.  Second course was a half portion of pasta with zucchini pesto, clams, shrimp and eggplant.  I liked the pasta as the pesto was chunky and the clams still in the shell.  I wandered down the main street v. Emmanuelle, stopping for a chocolate gelato on my way back to the hotel.

In the morning I took a walk to the lighthouse and stopped by the vegetable and fish markets.  Delicious cream filled croissant and café dopplia in the breakfast room with fresh melon and grapes.  Took the 10:45 a.m. ferry to the largest of the egadi islands, favignana, off the coast of Sicily.  The waters are clear and blue and there are some old roman ruins, rugged cliffs, churches, etc. to see.  I rented a bike for the day and rode all around the island, stopping here and there to enjoy the sights.  Parked in the town for a bit to have a pastry and coffee and wander the streets and took the 6:30 p.m. ferry back to Trapani.  With just enough time to take a shower and refresh myself, I walked a few minutes down my street to Seriosa 47, where I had a delicious 7 course dinner.  It is an elegant and very friendly restaurant and everything I had was divine, even the glass of white wine.  The menu consisted of:  tempura fish and carrots, shrimp on a bed of mussels, clams and squid, fish on top of eggplant puree, pasta with eggplant sauce and shrimp, john dory on top of potatoes with capers and tomatoes, sea breen with a bacon and bread crust and cassata filled with ricotta cheese for dessert. 

In the morning I walked to the port and back to the fish market before enjoying my cream filled croissant for breakfast and then headed back to Palermo to return the car.  The owner of the b&b printed out a street map for me so it was very easy to find my way.  I dropped my luggage off at Liberta and then took the bus to Monreale to visit the famous chiostro del duomo di monreale, filled with shimmering mosaics illustrating scenes from the bible.  The town is small and cute and as the church wasn’t opened as yet I sat in a piazza and had a Sicilian eggplant pizza with a side of arugula.  The mosaics in the church have an eastern look despite the western style Christ reigning over his kingdom.  The ceiling is ornate and there are also two bronze door depicting biblical stories in relief.  So glad I came!

Took the bus back to town and then sat in the piazza near the hotel and had a gelato before picking up my bags from Liberta.   I caught the 8:10 p.m. ferry back to Naples, finding a secluded place to sleep under the chairs….

Arrived at 7:00 a.m. and I found my b&b, Casa di Bruno, which turned out to be very close to the port.  It was not in the best area but once inside it was really nice.  The owner was delightful and my room was even ready so I took a shower and was off by 8:00 a.m.  Stopped around the corner for a delicious still warm chocolate croissant and coffee and then bought my ticket on the hydrofoil to Capri which left at 9:10 a.m.  We arrived in 45 minutes at the marina grande which is the port area and nothing remarkable.  Took the funicular up the steep hill to Capri which reminded me of the towns of the amalfi coast, lots of chic shops, nice piazzas, etc.  I picked up a map and headed away from the crowds along via tragara to the arco naturale, gorgeous Paleolithic rock arch out in the sea, which is spectacular!!!  On along the via to faraglioni, towering three rock formations jutting out from the sea.  I walked the 20 minutes down the cobble stone stairs to the sea to get a really good view of the rocks.  After all that walking I stopped at La Capannina recommended to be where the “smart set” goes for lunch.  I had a delicious antipasto platter, relaxing at a very nice table open to the street. 

I took the bus up to Anacapri up the hill and walked the historic walk out on Viale Axel Munthe to the Villa San Michele following the sea.  Beautiful views from the villa.  Back to Capri where I sat in the piazza and had a chocolate gelato before taking the funicular back down to the port and catching the ferry back to Naples.  It was a beautiful day.  Since my flight was early in the morning I just stopped at a nearby café for a pastry and coffee and returned to the b&b to pack up and get ready for the flight home.  Taxi came on time and I just had enough time to pick up my last cream filled croissant before boarding my first leg to Frankfurt, then Houston and finally home…It really makes for a wonderful trip experience if you plan well and I was so glad I did!!!