Kaysersberg, One Of The Most Beautiful Villages In France

Kaysersberg, has been designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France”. The timeless charm of this small Alsatian village of cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings and remnants of a medieval castle perched on the hillside should not be missed when traveling the  Route du Vin, the most famous wine route in France.

Kaysersberg

Kaysersberg, One Of The Most Beautiful Villages In France

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Kaysersberg is located in the Alsace region of France, the extreme eastern part of the country that lies at the foot of the Vosges mountains, bordering both Germany and Switzerland and is one of the loveliest and picturesque regions of France.

Known for its Route du Vin, the most famous wine route in France, it is a marked series of roads that meander through picture postcard little wine villages filled with colorful half-timbered buildings and castles perched on their hilltops. The route is just over 100 miles long, starting just west of Strasbourg, with the Rhine river that borders Germany to the east and the Vosges mountains to the west, then heads south towards Colmar and beyond to Mulhouse.

Besides Kaysersberg, there are other must see villages in the area that have also been designated as “most beautiful villages of France”…Eguisheim, Hunawihr and Riquewihr. These fairytale villages and nearby Ribeauvillé, with its three castles and the town of Colmar with its “Petite Venise” old quarter should not be missed. Exploring the Alsace makes you feel like you have been magically whisked into a children’s storybook. Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé are said to be the inspiration of Belle’s hometown in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Fall is the perfect time to visit the quaint medieval village of Kaysersberg. The summer crowds have gone, grapes are being harvested in the surrounding vineyards and wine festivals are underway. It is a pleasure to stroll the narrow cobbled streets lined with wine cellars offering tastings of riesling, sylvaner, gewürztraminer and pinot noir. Small shops with ironwork signs hanging above their doors sell delicious cakes and pastries that will beckon you in to try their sweet delicacies.

The village is also home to the hotel Le Chambard, near the entrance to the village. You can’t miss the most colorful building in the village adorned with beautiful flower boxes overflowing with geraniums along the windows of its facade. Le Chambard definitely adds a certain French flair to the village. A member of Relais & Châteaux, the small 5-star boutique hotel has been nicely converted from a pretty 18th century mansion.  With spacious contemporary rooms, excellent food that should please most any traveler and views of the Château de Kaysersberg ruins just a short walk up the hill, the hotel makes a nice base for exploring the famous wine road that lies both north and south of the hotel.

Le Chambard’s rooms and suites are all very unique in their decor and offer all the amenities you need for your stay. The hotel also has a small spa with a sauna, steam bath, jacuzzi and pool where you can relax after a day exploring the famous Alsatian wine road.

If you are a “foodie”, like myself, the hotel is worth seeking out as its restaurant, La Table d’Olivier Nasti, has been awarded 2 Michelin stars. The hotel also has a bistro called La Winstub du Chambard  rated by Michelin as a Bib gourmand, that serves excellent local specialties and wine. Unfortunately the gourmet restaurant was closed during our two day stay but we did enjoy the Winstub. Across from the hotel, Chef Nasti also has a restaurant called Flamme & Co where you can enjoy Alsatian flamekueche, also called tarte flambé. It is essentially a thin, light and crispy pizza covered with fromage blanc or cream fraiche, lardons (bacon) and onions that is baked in a wood oven.

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If you have been following Back Road Journal over the years, you may remember that the header photo for my blog was taken in this picturesque region of France years before. Whenever my husband and I are in this part of Europe, we always make plans to visit the Alsace. It is one of our favorite travel destinations where we know we can eat well and enjoy good wine. Even if we are staying in the Black Forest of Germany,  we often make a day trip and cross over the Rhine into France just to enjoy lunch in one of the traditional Alsatian winstubs that serve authentic regional dishes such as choucroute garni, flamekueche or tarte a l’oignon.

It had been too long since we stayed in this lovely region and I’m so glad that we returned for a few days to enjoy the delightful Alsace and the wonderful Route du Vin. I do hope that if you travel to France that you plan to spend a few days to discover this picturesque region where good food and wine are so very much appreciated.

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Bareiss, One Of Europe’s Best Hotels

Bareiss, one of Europe’s best hotels, is situated in the beautiful Black Forest countryside that inspired the Grimm Brother’s Fairytales.

Hotel Bareiss, Black Forest

Hotel Bareiss, One of Europe’s Best Hotels

Located in Baiersbronn-Mitteltal, the area is surrounded by a rolling landscape of farms and small villages at the edge of a forest so dense that it appears black. Picture perfect homes with window boxes ladened with flowers, small village shops selling wood carvings that the area is known for, taverns where you can try the region’s delicious smoked ham along with hearty bread, beer or wine and traditional bakeries where you can enjoy a slice of the famous Black Forest cake make for a memorable holiday.

The Black Forest

The Black Forest, Land Of Fairytales

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If I was asked what my favorite hotel in the Black Forest was, without hesitation, it would be Hotel Bareiss. The hotel has a tradition of excellence that my husband and I have not found elsewhere. It strives to be the best and has won numerous awards including 3 stars in the Michelin Red Guide,  4 lilies and 19 out of 20 points in the Relax Guide, 5 out of 5 diamonds in Varta-Führer 2019 and it won the Prix Villégiature Awards 2012 for the Best Resort in Europe just to name a few.

With so many awards, you might wonder what to expect if you stay at Hotel Bareiss. From my experience, I believe you will find absolute perfection. Very different from a large corporate hotel, Bareiss is charming, friendly and welcoming. You immediately sense why the hotel has such a fine reputation from the moment you arrive.

Hotel Bareiss

Hotel Bareiss

You are greeted at the front entrance by a waiting doorman who quickly unloads your bags to deliver to your room minutes later. Upon entering the hotel’s reception area and welcomed by hostesses dressed in beautiful dirndls, you feel a genuine warmth that continues throughout your visit. Every member of the friendly staff, many working here for decades, are eager to help make your stay a special one.

Bareiss Family

Hermann Bareiss, Son Hannes And His Wife Britta With  Little Hanna And Heidi

This was my husband’s and my third stay at this three generation family owned hotel, now overseen by Hermann Bareiss, his son Hannes, his daughter-in-law Britta and Kai Schmalzried, his nephew. You will more than likely encounter them during the course of your stay, stopping by to ask how your day was or how you are enjoying your meal.

The hotel has a choice of beautiful yet cozy rooms, each individually decorated. Our room this year was a rotunda apartment in the Landhaus (country house) with a wrap around terrace. The romantic room has everything you could wish for including a comfortable sofa, pretty writing desk with a mini table with all the hotel information, a fully adjustable king size bed and a slipper bathtub and separate rain shower in the large bathroom.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Bareiss is perhaps best known for its outstanding food and the room rate includes half board. Delicious meals are offered from early morning all the way through to a midnight snack in the bar, if you so desire. There are five hotel guest dining rooms and three à la carte restaurants. One is the 3 star Michelin rated Restaurant Bareiss, which the famous guide book deems “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” No matter where you dine, the best ingredients are used not only in the gourmet restaurant but also in dishes served in the other restaurants.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Outside the Bareiss complex, the hotel also offers meals at the pretty Forellenhof Buhlbach which is situated in a nature reserve just a short drive away. The restaurant serves fresh fish from its own fish farm.  A 45 minute walk away from the hotel, there is also a traditional hiking cabin named Sattelei. You will often find hikers here from the local villages joining hotel guests for drinks and traditional Black Forest hot and cold snacks.

The hotel has a wonderful Sauna World complex with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, massage rooms and rooms for quiet relaxation. There are also hiking trails through the forest and lots of activities to work off some of the calories you consume each day. But be warned, the hotel also provides a delicious afternoon cake buffet to enjoy as part of the half board that is included in your stay. We were on holiday so we had to indulge in the pampering environment and delicacies just a little.

While you might think that a hotel like this would be only appropriate for adults, that is certainly not the case. The hotel has created a little paradise for children that makes adults wish they were young again. There is a treehouse, a fairytale room and a circus wagon as well as an adventure and water playground and a house of games.

Bareiss is the perfect base for exploring this picturesque region by car and we were there while the Bareiss Classic was being held. Just imagine how much fun it would be to drive the winding roads of the Black Forest in your own vintage car. Whether you want to discover the delightful soundings found on the back roads, hike in the fresh air, relax in one of the pools or enjoy a multi course meal, I believe your desires will be met at Bareiss.

View From Bareiss Room Terrace

View From Our Terrace Of The Village Of Bairesbronn-Mitteltal

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Bareiss is special for many reasons but for my husband and I, it is the wonderful and heartfelt care that each guest receives during a stay…nothing seems impossible. From the warm greeting with glasses of Champagne upon arrival, delicious and elegantly served meals, entertainment in the bar, sweets left at turndown service, and a beautiful and relaxing spa area, Bareiss has it all. Hopefully, we will have the good fortune to return to one of our favorite hotels again sometime in the future. I hope one day you will get a chance to visit this memorable hotel and enjoy it a much as we have.

 

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BollAnts Hotel In The Rhineland-Palatinate Region Of Germany

BollAnts, a spa hotel in Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, has a motto “relax, reflect, rejuvenate“.

BollAnts Spa Hotel

BollAnts, A Spa Hotel In Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

A three day stay at BollAnts, a top rated spa hotel in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, was just what my husband and I needed after more than 24 hours of travel from our home. It was déjà vu for us as we were once again ready to start our fall vacation in Germany just as a major hurricane was predicted to strike our area. This time it was Hurricane Dorian that had us securing our home, changing our airline tickets and flying just a day before Melbourne, Florida airport closed.

Very few travelers, mostly wine lovers and spa goers, even know about the Naheland area of the Rhineland-Palatinate where BollAnts is located. The hotel lies on the banks of the Nahe river in the village of Bad Sobernheim, Germany and is just an hour’s drive from the Frankfurt Airport where we landed. The countryside lies between of the Mosel and Rhine rivers and is very picturesque with rolling hills that are covered with orchards and stepped vineyards in one of Germany’s smallest wine growing regions.

BollAnts has had guests visiting the hotel for over a hundred years looking to improve their wellness. In recent years, the spa hotel has been awarded 3 lilies and 17 points in the Relax Guide so we decided that it would make an ideal spot to start this year’s fall holiday.

Bollants Reception

Bollants Reception Lounge

The hotel is like a little village with several different styled lodges…Jugendstihl, Bauhaus, historic half-timbered as well as contemporary, to choose from when booking a room. We reserved a suite in the contemporary Halenberg guest house that had direct access to the spa. Our stylish modern room had a separate living area, bedroom, large bathroom with a bath as well as a separate rain head shower, a separate WC and a nice dressing room closet that held all our luggage for the trip. The room also had a large balcony with a lovely view of the  gardens.

Half board is included in the room rate and we started our mornings with a breakfast buffet in the Villa restaurant where we also had dinner on our first night. For an additional charge, we also had dinner in the Mediterranean inspired Hermannshof restaurant on our second night and in the hotel’s one star Michelin rated Jungborn restaurant on our third evening. Jungborn will be featured in another post in the future. I must say the food was excellent at each restaurant.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Although breakfast leaves you with nothing to be desired, if your are hungry in the afternoon you can enjoy a light lunch outside under the shady trees and gazebo or if you are in the spa, there is the Spa Bistro where you can have small snacks, cakes, juices and teas in the afternoon. Last but not least, there is also the hotel’s Fireside Bar where you can have a glass of wine and cocktails as well as small plates such as tarte flambé, wraps and salads.

BollAnts spa is a wonderful place to relax. It includes four saunas, two steam baths, an outdoor jacuzzi, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool in the hotel’s pretty park as well as a roof top pool. There are many different relaxation rooms with lots of books to read or cozy corners where you can take an afternoon nap after coming back from a hike in the surrounding area. I believe there is something to please everyone when it comes to the hotel’s spa facilities.

All in all, the first three days of our trip went by all too quickly and we were soon having to say our goodbyes. I must say that in the short time we were at BollAnts, we relaxed and reflected on how lucky we were that our home in Florida has remained safe from the storm. After exhausting days of preparing our home for a potential hurricane, we left BollAnts feeling rejuvenated just like their motto suggested.

Hurricane Dorian Projection

Hurricane Dorian Projection By NOAA

Our European holiday has just begun and we are looking forward to this year’s travels in Germany, France and Austria. I hope you will enjoy following along on this year’s trip.

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Smoked Salmon Appetizer Bites, Gluten Free And Low Carb

Smoked Salmon Appetizer Bites, gluten free and low carb, are much healthier than a lot of appetizers you see at cocktail parties. Crisp cucumbers slices are topped with a smear of Boursin garlic & fine herbs cheese, smoked salmon, capers and red onions and they are delicious.

You will love these smoked salmon appetizer bites because they can be put together in a matter of minutes and your guests won’t feel guilty eating more than one of these elegant little appetizers. They are so easy that you don’t really need a recipe.

smoked salmon appetizer

Gluten Free And Low Carb Smoked Salmon Appetizer Bites

A recipe is a list of ingredients and step by step directions on how to use them to recreate a dish that I have already made. When something is so easy that all it takes is to slice a couple of ingredients and then assemble them, is it a recipe? I don’t know but I still thought I would share how I made the smoked salmon appetizer bites…they are so good.

Smoked Salmon Appetizer Bites

  • 1 English (hot house) cucumber, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 package of a soft cream cheese such as Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs Cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped chives (optional)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. of capers, drained
  • smoked salmon slices, cut into bite size pieces, (I used part of a 4 oz. pkg. of Spruce Point Gravlaxstyle salmon by Ducktrap River of Maine)*
  • red onion, sliced into small slivers

Cut the cucumbers crosswise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Add the chopped chives to the cheese and mix. Spread each slice with some of the cheese mixture and press a couple of capers on top. Add a piece of smoked salmon, then garnish with a couple of slivers of red onion.

*My husband and I used to have a home in Maine and we first discovered this salmon when we vacationed in the Mid Coast Region of Maine visiting towns such as Rockland, Rockport, and Camden. I’ve not been compensated in anyway mentioning this salmon from Ducktrap River of Maine. My husband thinks all their smoked salmon products have the best flavor and texture and I thought I’d pass it along.

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I took the salmon appetizer bites to a friend’s home along with mini avocado toasts with lobster salad. The appetizers were easy to prepare as well as easy to transport which I find important when you are asked to bring an appetizer to someone else’s home. Both were light yet flavorful and went well with cocktails before our hostess served dinner.

Add the Smoked Salmon Appetizer Bites to your list of quick and easy appetizers as they are perfect when you want to have an impromptu, fun cocktail party. I’m confident that you will make your guests fill special when they see what you are serving them and you will  have not spent hours in your kitchen preparing for the party.

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European Road Trip Planning Tips

If a European Road Trip is on your bucket list, these planning tips will make your holiday especially memorable. I’ve planned and gone on road trips throughout Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland for years and thought I’d share the process.

This year my husband and I had planned another Mediterranean cruise but as sometimes happens, plans can change on very short notice. We consider ourselves very lucky that we were still in the timeframe where we could cancel our cruise and have our deposits refunded.

Now new plans had to be made for our fall holiday…what countries and areas to visit. Would we try someplace new or return to some of our longtime favorites? Perhaps we would go back to Tuscany where I have a friend who specializes in villa rentals. How about Provence or the Loire regions of France, it had been a long time since we had visited those areas. Where to fly in and out of, would we rent or lease a car and so on? That is what I’ve been working on and decided to share how I plan a European road trip.

Heiligenblut Pilgrimage Church

Heiligenblut Pilgrimage Church, Austria

Hotels in famous cities tend to fill up quickly as do flights in and out of them. If you can’t get on a flight when you want to leave, be flexible and pick another date or travel destination. I couldn’t find reasonably priced nonstop flights to Italy or France out of Orlando or Miami, two international airports that are several hours from our home.

I learned years ago that you can often see more of Euope if you fly into one city and out of another. Instead of searching roundtrip flights, I searched multi-city flights and included Melbourne, Florida, a small airport an hour’s drive from our home. While we normally take nonstop flights to Europe, I found a convenient American flight out of Melbourne connecting in Charlotte to Frankfurt and returning home from Munich through Charlotte back to Melbourne. The fare was half the price of what we paid three years ago so I bought our tickets without hesitation.

We always rent a car because it allows you to go to rural destinations. Many people on travel forums will tell you that trains are the best way to see Europe. If you are young and have a sense of adventure, travel light, don’t mind making connections and sometimes having to use buses to get to your final destination, then trains may be for you. Driving gives us the independence to stop when and where we want, finding the out of way  place to eat or the castle ruins on top of a hill that make a trip especially memorable.

european rental car

European Rental Car

Driving regulations on car rentals in Europe vary drastically in each country. Most rental companies only allow some of their cheaper models to cross the border into Eastern Europe or even Italy. Even then, you may be required to buy supplemental insurance. We usually rent a Volvo, BMW or Mercedes. We get an automatic with GPS, we think the extra cost is worth it. They have plenty of room for luggage and they handle well in the Alps but they are not allowed to be driven into Italy or the Czech Republic so read the fine print. It is also good to know that if you will be driving in Austria, Greece, Italy, and much of Eastern Europe, you can be fined for driving without an international permit. The permit can be easily obtained from AAA in the US.

Driving The Grossglockner, The World’s Highest Alpine Road

Driving Our Rental Car On The Famous Grossglockner, The World’s Highest Alpine Road

Familiarize yourself with the passenger and luggage space of the category of car you are renting. It may sound funny but if you are concerned whether you and your luggage will fit in a particular model rental car, stop by a car dealer and check out its interior and trunk before you rent the car.

I would never drive in Europe without GPS. I always have a map with us for day trips and they are good for an overview of your route but GPS has made my life as navigator on our trips so much easier. I get to enjoy the countryside views instead of always being glued to a map trying to determine where the next turn for an unmarked county road will be.

back roads of Europe

GPS Is Helpful On The Back Roads Of Europe

Reserve and pay for your rental car as far in advance as possible for a good rate. Just like airline ticket prices, as availability decreases, prices increase. For our last few car rentals in Europe, I’ve used Hertz. Would you believe that I can rent a better car for less money in Germany than I can at home. The cheapest car I can rent in my own hometown for 26 days is a Ford Focus without GPS for $45.65 a day. For this trip, I rented a Mercedes E-Class Automatic with GPS for 26 days for $27.75 a day. Search around for the best rate but always rent from a reputable company.

Your biggest expense for a European holiday will be transportation. Within a week of paying for your airline tickets, I would suggest you buy travel insurance. Accidents, health issues and weather related incidents can happen even before you start your holiday. I bought “cancel for any reason” insurance that will cover the costs of our airfare, car rental and hotel rooms in case we have a problem either before or during our European trip. We have had two close calls of having trips cancelled at the last minute by hurricanes so having trip insurance gives us peace of mind.

hurricane Irma closes airports

Weather Channel – Hurricane Irma Closes Airports In Florida

Once I have my airline and car reservations made, it is time to plan what cities to visit. I use a large scale map and sticky markers to visualize the route. I also use small scale maps when I’m looking for a scenic route or places of interest along the way. Most of the time, our destinations are about a 3 to 4 hour drive apart. If you do take the scenic route along a coastal or mountain road, it may take longer than you may have planned, especially if you encounter bad weather.

planning a European road trip

Planning A European Road Trip

How long the stay will be at each destination is usually determined by how long your holiday is for. When my husband and I first started traveling in Europe, we spent one night in each hotel and were on the road the next morning because our vacations were 7 to 10 days long. Now our trips are usually for three weeks with a 3 night stay at each destination. We do make exceptions and will stay one night to break up a long drive or stay 4 or five nights if we are visiting somewhere especially interesting that we have never been to before. This year’s trip will be 26 days long and we will be staying at 10 hotels, 3 we have never been to before and 7 favorites that we love returning to time and again.  We will leave from Frankfurt and visit Germany, perhaps day trip over to Switzerland, visit France and Austria before flying home from Munich.

poolside of hotel bareiss

Poolside Of Hotel Bareiss

Do your research when choosing a hotel or destination in Europe, I spend days, if not weeks, researching them. I’ll Google a town or hotel and look at 10 or more pages of websites, trying to get honest, unbiased information. If the website is in a foreign language, I’ll copy and paste it into Google translate. I like to read traveler’s opinions on Trip Advisor but you might be surprised that I read the terrible comments before the good ones. If there is a pattern of something being wrong with a hotel, that is where you will discover it. I also rely on the viamichelin.com and Michelin Red Guides for honest information on hotels and good restaurants. If we plan to stay at a spa resort, wellness hotel, as they are referred to in Europe, the Relax Guide is the absolute best but you have to translate the information. The hotels that we finally pick are selected for their location, having a good reputation and their amenities like a good restaurant or wellness facilities.

post hotel achenkirsch spa

Part Of The Spa Area At Post Hotel Achenkirch

I don’t use a booking site to reserve a room. While you may get a good price, you may also get one of the small rooms that most people would be unhappy with, get a room with a window that looks out at a concrete wall three feet away or you may even get the noisy room over the dumpster that the hotel has trouble renting.

Nesslerhof Suite

Nesslerhof’s Suite Weitblick With Fireplace And Open Floor Plan

E-mail the hotel directly to make a reservation especially when you would like a specific room or have a question about the advantage of one room classification over another. If I don’t hear back in a couple of days, I’ll send a second e-mail as sometimes the first might have gone into their spam file. By the time I walk into a hotel entrance for the first time, I’m confident that I got a room for a good price and our stay will a nice one.

Hilton Munich airport

Hilton Munich Airport

Last but not least, stay close to the airport for your departure. The night before our flight home, we are staying at the Hilton Munich Airport which is connected to the airport terminals. There is nothing worse than being caught in unexpected traffic, encountering long check in or security lines then having to run through an airport with your carry on luggage, all the time hoping not to miss your flight home.

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I’ve been planning  multi city road trips through France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland for years and find the whole process very interesting. While planning each of those trips, I have learned a lot about each country before I’ve ever left home.

Many of our friends have told me that they would find the task daunting and would rather take a guided tour where someone else has planned and is responsible for their holiday. My husband and I enjoy our road trips in Europe so I thought I would share my planning tips with my readers who might be thinking of planning their own European holiday.

Good luck and happy travels!

 

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Chicken Marsala

A classic Italian American dish, Chicken Marsala, is quick and easy to prepare. Served with pasta or mashed potatoes, this delicious meal is sure to please your family and friends.

chicken marsala, an Italian American classic

Chicken Marsala, An Italian American Classic

Chicken Marsala is quick and easy to prepare so there is no need to go to a restaurant to enjoy this popular dish. Your family and friends will be impressed because who can resist a golden brown pan sautéed chicken breast topped with a delicious mushroom wine sauce.

What makes this dish so good is Marsala wine. Marsala, dry with a touch of sweetness, is a fortified wine from Sicily that adds a rich, caramelized and savory flavor to recipes. The alcohol cooks off as it simmers, leaving a wonderful taste that does not overpower the chicken or veal used in this classic recipe. I suggest buying a good bottle of Marsala wine and keeping it in your kitchen pantry. You can use a semi sweet Marsala wine for the sauce but I prefer a dry Marsala in a savory dish like this recipe and I use a sweet Marsala wine in dessert recipes like sabayon or tiramisu.

If Marsala is hard to find in your area, you could substitute another fortified wine such as a dry sherry or Madeira. The sauce will have a similar but slightly different flavor. If you are preparing dinner for a special occasion, instead of making Chicken Marsala, you might want to serve Veal Marsala, it’s prepared the same but using a more expensive ingredient.

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala, An Italian American Classic

 Chicken Marsala

Serves two, adjust the recipe according

  • 2 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz. each), pounded to a 1/4 inch thickness
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • flour for dusting (I use Wondra)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter plus an additional 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz. Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 c. Marsala wine
  •  1 c. chicken stock (homemade preferred)
  • 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 c. cream (optional for a rich, creamy sauce)*
  • 1/8 tsp. truffle oil (optional for added flavor)*
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley (save a little for garnish)

Pat the chicken dry with paper towel, pound to an even thickness then season each side with salt and pepper. Dust lightly with flour and shake off any excess. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. butter with the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sauté briefly, about 3 minutes per side, depending on their thickness, until they are light golden brown. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Using the same pan, add 1 Tbsp. of butter, the mushrooms and the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add another Tbsp. of butter, the shallot and garlic then sauté for about a minute.  Add the Marsala and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until the wine is reduced by half then add the chicken broth. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Remove the thyme stems and stir the remaining Tbsp. of butter into the sauce, taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. *If you would like to have a rich, creamy sauce, add 1/4 cup of cream and simmer for another minute. Add the truffle oil*, if using, and the chopped parsley. Return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juices and simmer to heat through. Serve, garnished with a little finely chopped parsley.

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chicken marsala

Chicken Marsala On A Bed Of Sautéed Baby Spinach With A Side Of Fettuccini Pasta

When I make this recipe for just my husband and I, it is usually served with a simple pasta that I toss with olive oil, butter and finely chopped fresh parsley. The Chicken Marsala is super fast to prepare so if you are going to serve the recipe with pasta like I do, cook and keep the pasta warm before adding your chicken to the marsala sauce.

When I’m making this dish for a dinner party, another pretty way of serving the sautéed chicken topped with the savory mushroom wine sauce is to place the chicken on a bed of sautéed baby spinach. It is not only delicious but adds nice color to the plate. I also serve pasta or mashed potatoes to complete the meal. All you need to add is a good bottle of wine to go along with the meal and your friends will be saying “delizioso“.

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Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

Crisp and flaky individual tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts can be served as an appetizer or as a pretty side dish at your next social gathering.

tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts

Individual Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts are a delicious appetizer that you are going to love. I took them to a friend’s dinner party recently where the hostess served them during cocktails before sitting down to dinner. I was happy when I saw our friends going back for second helpings of these flaky tarts. I also prepared them on Father’s Day and the men in our family went back for more as well. I believe that I can safely say the savory pastries have been well tested and approved by family and friends.

tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts

A Platter Of Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

The individual tarts are made with store-bought frozen puff pasty, frozen spinach, a container of goat cheese and a package of small tomatoes on the vine, all bought at my local market. Being able to do the prep work ahead of time with easy to find ingredients, makes the tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts perfect for entertaining.

Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

  • 4 small tomatoes, sliced (12 slices needed)
  • 1 10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. more or less, freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 oz. softened goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 sheet (9 x 9) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, whisked (egg wash)

Optional Seasoned Olive Oil Topping:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • pinch of oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes, place on a rack over a tray and let drain. Blot with paper towel before assembling the tarts.

drained sliced tomatoes

Drained Sliced Tomatoes

Place the frozen spinach in a microwave safe bowl, cover and cook on high for 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Sauté the garlic and spinach in 1 Tbsp. oil for a minute or two. Remove from heat and let cool. Combine the spinach, pepper and cheeses and mix well. Form the mixture into 12 round discs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until needed.

spinach and goat cheese rounds

Spinach And Goat Cheese Rounds

Thaw the pastry at room temperature for no more than 40 minutes. Unfold and place on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Using a pastry wheel, cut into 12 three inch squares. Staying within 1/2 inch of the edge, prick the pastry with a fork four times down the center. Dust off any excess flour from the bottoms of the squares and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until needed. (To puff up properly, the pastry needs to be very cold.)

preparing tomato spinach and goat cheese tart

Preparing The Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Tarts For The Oven

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To assemble the tarts, brush the squares all over with the egg wash. Place a spinach round on each pastry square and top with a slice of tomato. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the tomatoes lightly with the (optional) seasoned oil, if using. Serve warm garnished with julienned basil, if desired.

individual tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tart

Individual Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tart

Tips:

  • I used Campari tomatoes on the vine. They were a good size to fit on the 3 inch pastry squares as you need to leave at least a half inch border or more of pastry.
  • I did not add salt to this recipe because both cheeses have salt in them. Taste the spinach and cheese mixture and season to your own taste.
  • The spinach and cheese mixture can be prepared up to two days ahead of time, covered and refrigerated.
  • I used a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to form the mixture into 12 round discs. I made them early in the day, covered them with plastic wrap and refrigerated them until needed.
  • I sliced the tomatoes and put them on a rack an hour before assembling the tarts then blotted them dry with paper towels right before the tarts went in the oven.
  • The puff pastry comes in two sheets and I only used one. If you use one sheet in its original 9 by 9 inch size, you will get 9 slightly thicker tarts. I rolled the puff pastry to a 9 by 12 inch rectangle and got 12 tarts.
  • When I took the tarts to a dinner party, I started baking the tarts an hour before we left, let them cool 15 minutes then put them in paper lined, open top containers. They arrived safely and were warm and crisp when they were served with cocktails.
  • I have also made them two hours before serving. Once baked, I turned off the oven and left the door ajar until my guests arrived. They were still crisp when served at room temperature.
  • Keep in mind that the longer the tarts sit, they will start to lose some of their crispness.

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These easy to make puff pasty tarts can also be adapted to your and your guests tastes and dietary preferences. Instead of goat cheese, you could use feta or cream cheese. If you are planning a Mediterranean dinner, you might want to add some black olives to the recipe. If you would like to serve the tarts as a light meal, you could prepare the recipe, cutting the rolled pastry dough into four or six portions or make a single large tart. I do hope you try these savory tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts, all my friends and family thought they were delicious.

 

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Strawberry Infused Vodka

Strawberry Infused Vodka can be used to create a number of refreshing cocktails for warm summer days. Think about a strawberry vodka martini or using the strawberry infused vodka in a mojito or combined with sparking wine, sangria or lemonade to serve at your next summer social gathering.

Strawberry Martini

Strawberry Infused Vodka Martini

Fruit flavored cocktails are popular during the summer. While usually made with pureed fruit or a flavored liquor, the cocktails can also be made with homemade fruit infused vodka. When beautiful sweet, ripe strawberries are available at your farmer’s market or local grocery store, go ahead and buy a couple of pints and make strawberry infused vodka. Be warned though, their fragrance will be so sweet that it will be hard to resist eating some of them before you get home.

Sweet Summer Strawberries

Sweet Summer Strawberries

Fruit or herb vodka infusions couldn’t be simpler to make…it’s as easy as one, two, three. One, wash and cut up fruit. Two, cover with vodka and store until it reaches the desired flavor. Three, strain and create your cocktail. The same process can be used with any very ripe fruit as well as various herbs and spices. You can also use the same process with other spirits such as rum, bourbon, gin or tequila.

Strawberry Infused Vodka

  • 2 pints of ripe strawberries (either organic or unsprayed)
  • 1 750 ml. bottle vodka, your favorite vodka*
  • 2 Tbsp. super fine sugar, optional (only if the strawberries are not particularly sweet)

*The quality of your vodka is very important, you want to use a very smooth one that you would drink in a regular martini.

Rinse the strawberries and let drain. Cut the berries into quarters and place in a large container that has a tight fitting lid. Taste the strawberries, if not super sweet, sprinkle no more than two tablespoons of sugar over the berries then add the entire bottle of vodka.

Seal the container and place in a cool, dark place for at least three days and up to seven days. Each day or two, give the container a swirl. When the strawberries are white and the vodka is bright red, you know the process is complete. Strain the vodka through a strainer and then through a paper coffee filter to remove all the sediment. If not perfectly clear, filter one more time through another coffee filter. The strawberry flavor will fade unless the vodka is stored in the refrigerator or preferably the freezer. (You might be tempted to taste one of the strawberries but take my word, they have given up all their flavor to the vodka and are now totally tasteless.)

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I like to keep the strawberry vodka stored in the freezer in small containers. When making a strawberry martini, take out of the freezer and let sit until the vodka just starts to defrost then scoop out and place in a martini glass. Your cocktail glass will turn frosty and taste like a grown up strawberry Slurpee…very nice on a hot summer evening. Remember to drink with caution as the martini goes down easy.

You can use the strawberry vodka to create lots of different cocktails. Add a little to a glass of sparkling wine or use the vodka to change a classic rum mojito into a strawberry vodka mojito. Add it to a pitcher of sangria or make an adult pink lemonade using the strawberry vodka. Sweet fruit cocktails loaded simple syrups have never enticed me. However, using this homemade strawberry infused vodka with the essence and flavor of sweet strawberries in cocktails suits my taste perfectly and perhaps it will yours as well. Cheers!

 

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What Makes People Travel

What makes people travel? Whether backpacking in Europe after college, cruising to a far off exotic port or heading to a sunny beach to escape the cold, people everywhere love to travel.

Eiffel Tower, Paris France

Eiffel Tower Paris, France

If you have followed my writings for the last eight years, you know my love of travel. Our friends and even you, my readers, more or less presume that in the course of the year I will be planning a trip and it is usually to Europe.

You might wonder, what is it that makes me want to travel? I would say it is wanderlust, a “strong desire to wander or travel and explore the world”. I like to see what is down the next road, across the country or on the other side of the world. The feeling started while in elementary school studying world geography and grew stronger as each year passed. My first flight was from Texas to California after graduating high school. My first international trip was two years later on a two week guided American Express tour through Europe and since then that desire to travel has never stopped.

Monet's Home And Garden

Monet’s Home And Garden

The most visited country in the world is France and I can count myself as one of the millions of tourists who has visited, in fact I’ve probably visited France more than any other European country. Who can resist wanting to see Monet’s garden, the grand chateau of the Loire or the quaint sunny towns of Provence.

Click on any photo in this article to enjoy and see a slide show.

Many people believe Paris is the most beautiful city in the world and I think I would agree. I’ve panicked in a narrow winding staircase inside the Arc de Triomphe and yet still got to its top (convinced by my husband) to be able see across that most beautiful of cities.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

I believe movies, tv, books and photos from travel magazines have spurred my desire to see world famous monuments like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. How wonderful it is to actually see them in all their glory.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle Built by Ludwig II

I enjoy traveling to distant lands to discover other peoples cultures and how they celebrate their special holidays. We love visiting Bavaria as it still holds tight to its traditions, costumes and dance and of course, Munich is world famous for its Octoberfest celebrations.

Bavarian Folk Dancing

Folk Dancing In Traditional Bavarian Dress

Perhaps some of us travel to challenge ourselves. I have a fear of heights yet I keep planning trips to the tops of mountains. I still cringe as we encounter narrow hairpin turns on a steep mountain road but don’t be surprised when I plan another visit to the Alps.

The beauty of nature has me wanting to travel to places both far and near.

Some of us travel for adventure, while for others, it is the love of food. I enjoy trying different cuisines…whether street food in Bangkok or at a Michelin starred restaurant that has to be booked months in advance. I had my first croissant and escargot in Paris, ate delicious chocolates in Belgium, learned how to twirl pasta in Italy and decided that I didn’t care for sushi after trying it in Tokyo.

Many people travel for a change of climate. I live in Florida where the “snowbirds” flock to escape the snow and cold, returning to their northern homes when spring flowers start to bloom. We used to travel to Florida each February for some warm sunny weather.

Some of us travel to spend time with our loved ones perhaps to celebrate a special occasion. A trip to Disney or to a nearby summer lake creates family memories that will last a lifetime. We have wonderful memories of our family visiting us in Maine.

Each time I look back at the places my husband and I have traveled to, it is not surprising that I start thinking about another trip. It seems like yesterday that I was visiting the Chateau de Chenonceau gardens designed for Catherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers.

Chateau de Chenonceau Gardens

Chateau de Chenonceau Gardens

It has been eight years since I started Back Road Journal and I have loved having so many of you follow along on my adventures, thank you. If you are thinking about planning a trip, I do hope that my travel stories and photos might give you some ideas of where you might want to travel in the future. I hope to have you along on our coming adventures.

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The Best Potato Salad – My Mother’s Recipe

I grew up in Texas where potato salad is a staple at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings and I believe the best potato salad is my mother’s recipe.

The Best Texas Potato Salad

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

Potato salad is pretty much a blank canvas that you can prepare to your own tastes. So what is it about a recipe that makes it go from a good to great tasting side dish? Are there secret ingredients that can make potato salad special? I believe that my mother had the answer to those questions.

In Texas smoked meats and potato salad are a real crowd pleaser at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings. Texans know good potato salad and most every family has their favorite recipe but to my thinking, my mother’s recipe was and still is the best. Like many other home cooks, she used hardboiled eggs, onion, celery, and mayonnaise but what made hers special were dill pickles, some of the pickle juice and mustard. The zesty flavor of mustard and briny pickles brighten the flavor of the potato salad and goes especially well with the smoky goodness of barbecue. She did one other thing that made her recipe special and that is to “cook the potatoes in their jackets” as she used to say. She cooked the potatoes with the skin on then peeled them so they retained their nutrients and flavor, didn’t get watery and didn’t fall apart.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad Made With Eggs, Dill Pickles And Mustard

My mother never measured when cooking, everything was done to taste. Like her, I usually don’t measure unless I’m sharing a recipe with my readers then I measure all of the ingredients until the flavor is just right. I like to taste as I go and you should as well. The last thing you want is bland potato salad and the potatoes you use will determine how much seasoning your potatoes will need. This recipe creates a flavorful potato salad that has a zippy taste from the pickles and mustard while the red onions and celery add a nice crispness to counter the softer eggs and potatoes.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad

  • 3 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 1/2 large red onion diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 or 2 dill pickles, diced, I use Claussen’s refrigerated pickles
  • 1 c. mayonnaise, I used Duke’s
  • 5 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 – 2 tsp. salt, to your taste
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. pickle juice (if needed add an addition Tbsp., one at a time, until the taste is to your liking) I needed a total of 8 Tbsp. for the potatoes I used
  • 6 hardboiled eggs, peeled (5 cubed and 1 sliced for garnish)
  • chopped parsley or dill for garnish

Place the whole potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by 2 – 3 inches and salt water generously. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium, cook at a gentle boil until tender about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Add additional water, if necessary, to keep the potatoes covered. Drain the potatoes and let rest on a large tray until cool enough to handle then peel and cut into cubes.

Place the potatoes into a very large mixing bowl then add the onions, celery and pickles. In a small bowl, mix together the mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and 4 Tbsp. of pickle juice. Pour over the potatoes and mix gently until all the potatoes are well coated then taste and adjust seasonings and pickle juice, if necessary. Add the cubed hardboiled eggs and gently mix. Cover and refrigerate several hours but preferably overnight for the flavors to blend. When ready to serve, taste one last time to see if any additional seasoning is required, then garnish with sliced hardboiled eggs and parsley.

Notes:

  • Use good quality waxy potatoes, I used Yukon gold.
  • Use potatoes that are firm, with no dark spots, deep cuts or sprouting eyes.
  • Try to use potatoes that are all the same size. If not, you may need to remove smaller potatoes when cooked while larger potatoes may need to cook a little longer.
  • Make sure the potatoes are cooked through. There is nothing worse than eating undercooked, crunchy potatoes.
  • Potatoes are done when a long metal skewer, fork or thin knife can slide all the way through without resistance.
  • Remember that potatoes need to be well seasoned. You may need to increase or decrease some of the ingredients so I would suggest to taste several times before refrigerating.
  • Don’t over mix or you will end up with mashed potatoes.
  • Add eggs at the end and mix gently so that they don’t completely fall apart.
  • Potato salad tastes better after being refrigerated for several hours or even better made one day in advance.
  • Garnish the potato salad with sliced hardboiled eggs, parsley, dill or paprika, if desired.
  • Depending on your taste, you can add or remove ingredients to your liking. Make the recipe your own by adding chopped bacon, sliced scallions, olives, capers or even sweet pickle relish but then again, it won’t be My Mother’s Recipe.

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Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and backyard cookouts so I thought this was the perfect time to share this old-fashioned recipe of my mother’s with my readers. It is one of my favorite summer sides to serve with barbecue, hamburgers, hotdogs or sandwiches, it is great to take to a potluck meal for a group of friends or to serve with southern fried chicken or baked ham at your family dinner table. Tell me, do some of the foods that you love come from recipes that your mother originally made for you. My mother’s fried chicken and potato salad will always be my favorites.

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