White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Warm white beans tossed with a homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette is a simple dish with flavors that bring back memories from my travels in Italy. White Beans / Lemon / Parmesan / Anchovies / Garlic / Olive Oil / Herbs…simple ingredients that season the beans so well that they almost outshine whatever you happen to serve them with.

Chicken And Roasted Tomatoes On A Bed Of White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

I have to thank my very best friend for introducing me to these delicious beans. She served them as a first course at a summer dinner party in Nantucket. Over the course of the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe depending on what I’m serving the beans with but most of the time I tend to serve them with chicken. I’ve pan sautéed chicken thighs and served them on a bed of the white beans along with oven roasted tomatoes. I have also served the beans as a warm salad with cherry tomatoes from our local market. On a busy weeknight, the bean and tomato salad and a store bought rotisserie chicken topped with a quickly made fresh green herb sauce makes for quick and flavorful Tuscan inspired dinner.

Warm White Bean And Tomato Salad Alongside Chicken With Green Sauce

When you have time, you can create this dish using dried cannellini beans that you cook with fresh herbs much like a cook in Tuscany would do. I’ve included the recipe if that is what you prefer. If you are short on time as many of us are, you can use canned cannellini, great northern or whatever white beans you might have in your pantry. Either way you decide to prepare the beans, I think you will find them to be a delicious side dish.

White Beans With A Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • juice of one small lemon, about 1/4 cup
  • grated zest of 1 lemon, about 1 tsp.
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste or 2 to 3 anchovy filets, finely minced
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper, mustard and anchovy until well blended. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until emulsified then stir in the parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust for seasoning…it should be very flavorful. The vinaigrette can be made ahead and refrigerated up to a week. Bring to room temperature and whisk to recombine before using.

White Beans

Serves  4 – 6 as a side dish, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2  19oz. cans cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed or 4 c. cooked white beans of your choice* (recipe below)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 c. chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, halved (If you are making a warm bean salad)
  • 1/4 c. chopped basil or parsley (If you are making a warm bean salad)

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large sauté pan then add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme then cook for another minute. Add the stock and cook for an additional minute. Add the beans to the pan and simmer until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the beans into a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the warm beans and gently fold until the beans are well coated. Let sit for a few minutes as the beans gradually absorb the vinaigrette. Toss several more times, being careful not to mash the beans when tossing. If the beans appear too dry, drizzle in a little extra olive oil. If you wish to make a warm bean salad, add the tomatoes and the basil or parsley and carefully mix together. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary, and then serve.

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*Cooked White Beans:  Place 1 cup of dried cannellini beans in large pot and cover with cold water by 3 to 4 inches (about 6 cups) and let soak overnight. Wash and drain beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water again by about an inch or two. Add a half onion and  couple sprigs of rosemary, thyme and parsley tied together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour, stirring occasionally. Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until beans are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour longer. Add more water, if necessary, to keep beans covered with liquid. Cool beans in liquid for about 15 minutes then remove the onion and herbs. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a large bowl and keep warm. If you are not using the beans right away, reserve some of the cooking liquid in case the beans appear dry when continuing the recipe.

White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

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The homemade vinaigrette is light yet very flavorful and is what gives the beans such a terrific taste. It is so good that you might want to double or triple the recipe and serve it on salads made with fresh ingredients from your seasonal vegetable garden or from your local farmer’s market. Pour what you are not immediately using for the bean recipe into a jar and refrigerate up to a week. For the best flavor, bring what you need to room temperature and whisk or shake to recombine.

My girlfriend shared her recipe with me (which of course I’ve changed a little over the years) and now I’m sharing it with you. I hope you will enjoy the white beans with the homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette as much as my husband and I do and perhaps you will end up sharing the recipe with one of your friends.

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Pimento Cheese, A Southern Staple

Pimento Cheese is one of the south’s most cherished staples and is often referred to as the “pâté of the South”. You will see it served at ladies luncheons, picnics, church potlucks, weddings, funerals and even at the Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National.

Pimento Cheese And Crackers, A Southern Snack

If you are not from the southern part of the U.S., you may have never heard of pimento cheese and might wonder why it is so popular. This creamy cheese spread is true southern comfort food made with a blend of sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, roasted sweet pimento peppers and various seasonings. Ask any southerner for their recipe and it will probably be different from the next person you ask. They might make it with just cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimento like my mother did or they might add garlic, grated onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jalapeños, pickles or even bacon.

Husk Is One of Charleston’s Most Well Known Restaurants

Husk, a well known restaurant in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is noted for its farm to table meals. After entering through the front door, there is a huge chalk board that has a list of ingredients used in the days cooking and the farms they came from. When my husband and I visited for lunch one day, one of the signature items on the menu that we had to try was their “House Made Pimento Cheese, Grilled Crostini, Pickle Relish, Crispy Country Ham and Chives. It was different from what I’d had before and we both enjoyed sharing the appetizer to start our lunch. I knew then that one day I would have to try making their version.

Pimento Crostini With Sweet Relish And Bacon On Crostini

Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef Southeast”, founding chef and now culinary advisor at Husk shared his very popular pimento cheese recipe in his cookbook called  “Heritage” and it was the inspiration for the pimento cheese recipe I’m sharing here.

Pimento Cheese

  • 7 oz. jar of diced pimento, drained well
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. mayonnaise (Duke’s is the brand I used)
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce such as Tabasco or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 8 oz. block extra sharp white cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles with some of the brine (I used Mt. Olive Simply Relish, deli style sweet)

Grate the cheese on a box grater or food processor and set aside. Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl and stir until softened. Add the mayonnaise, Tabasco, spices and mix well. Add the grated cheese and relish and mix until well combined. Fold in the diced pimento. Taste and  adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tips and Notes:

  1. I used jarred diced pimento but if your market has fresh pimento peppers, you can roast, peel, seed and dice them like Chef Brock.
  2. In the past, I used Hellman’s mayonnaise but Chef Brock and most southerners prefer Dukes. I bought it and am now a convert as the taste is more like homemade. Start with 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and if the mixture seems too thick add 1 or 2 Tbsp. more.
  3. Don’t use pre-shredded packaged cheese, it is too dry.
  4. I used two 8 oz. blocks of cheddar, one white extra sharp cheddar and one sharp cheddar but you can use 1 lb. of sharp cheddar if you wish.
  5. Chef Brock’s recipe called for 1/4 cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus 1/2 cup of the brine which I doubt anyone will find. He suggested to substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine. I only used a 1/4 cup of sweet relish that included a little of the brine in the measuring cup.
  6. Chef Brock used a 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. sugar in his recipe but I didn’t add either to my recipe.
  7. If you want a creamier spread, blend with a hand mixer for a minute or two.
  8. For a more flavorful pimento cheese, prepare it several hours in advance of serving.
  9. When I had the appetizer at Husk, the pimento cheese was spread on grilled crostini and topped with sweet relish, crispy country ham and chives. I have served the pimento cheese in a similar fashion, using either toasted crostini or crackers and topped it with a sprinkle of the sweet pickle relish and crumbled bacon.
  10. The brands I mentioned are just personal preferences (not endorsements) and may not be available in your area. Use the best ingredients that you can find.

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I grew up eating pimento cheese sandwiches because my mother was trying to stretch a dollar. Now you can find various versions of pimento cheese on menus in some of the best restaurants in the country. You can have it as a starter at Husk in Charleston, in a sandwich at the Masters Golf Tournament or as an ingredient in the mac and cheese served at Churchill Downs. Whether you decide to have pimento cheese in a sandwich, as a snack with crackers or celery sticks or perhaps as a topping on baked potatoes or burgers, I think you will enjoy this recipe…it is true southern comfort food.

 

 

 

 

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Romesco Sauce, A Low Carb, Keto Recipe

Romesco Sauce is from the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain and is probably as famous there as ketchup is in other regions of the world. Like Italian pesto, this versatile Spanish sauce is raw, not cooked and is low carb, vegan, keto and paleo friendly. Healthier but just as flavorful as my original version, what is missing from this recipe is the bread which is used as a thickener in the traditional Catalonian version. Made from vivid roasted sweet red bell peppers, almonds and olive oil, it is delicious served with fish, chicken, and grilled meats and vegetables.

Romesco Sauce Made With Roasted Red Peppers

While usually made with dried nyora chilies, most people living outside of Spain use roasted red bell peppers. You can roast your own which I’ve done in the past but if short on time, use jarred roasted red peppers that have been packed in oil like I did for this recipe. I served this healthy, vivid roasted red bell pepper sauce on a chicken breast and the simple dish had me reminiscing about our trip to Spain last fall. While in Barcelona, we saw Romesco sauce served alongside several different tapas dishes.

Chicken With Low Carb, Keto Friendly Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce, A Low Carb Keto Version

  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted lightly
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. roughly chopped roasted and peeled red peppers or 1 jar (14 oz.) fire roasted bell peppers, drained
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (I used an 1/8 tsp.) or to taste
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until chopped fine. Be careful not to process too much or you will end up with a paste. Add the garlic, peppers, vinegar, salt, pepper and cayenne to the food processor and pulse until a smooth consistency. Slowly drizzle in the oil while the processor is running. You should end up with a slightly thickened, creamy consistency. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper and cayenne, if necessary. If the Romesco sauce is too thick, drizzle in a little more oil while processing. If too thin, add a little more finely chopped almonds. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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The romesco sauce added vibrant color and wonderful flavors to the simply prepared chicken breast that I served it with. While a slightly thinner sauce than the traditional version made with the addition of bread, I don’t think the bread adds much flavor but definitely adds carbs and calories that I was trying to avoid. If you have been making an effort to cut out carbs from your diet, I think this condiment will be a staple in your kitchen. This healthy romesco sauce has so many uses…serve as you would hummus, as a sauce, a salad dressing or even as a flavor enhancer for soups and stews.

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Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles were the answer to a delightful dilemma I had recently. My husband and I were invited to join five other couples on a sunset cruise and each couple was asked if they could bring an appetizer to share. We needed to make finger food that would be easy to serve and eat on our friend’s boat. Bite size savory goat cheese balls mixed with dried fruit and then rolled in nuts or seeds and skewered with a pretzel stick seemed like the perfect appetizer to take on board the boat. The goat cheese truffles are a one or two bite appetizer and served with the pretzel sticks for toothpicks, there is no trash left that might blow into the water.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

  • 4 oz. goat cheese, room temperature 
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. finely minced dried fruit (I used apricots, cranberries and golden raisins)
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or to your preferred level of spiciness

Add the two cheeses to a medium size bowl and using a rubber spatula, mix until well combined. Add the dried fruit, lemon juice and cayenne and mix until light and creamy. Refrigerate the cheese mixture until firm. Take about a teaspoon of the cheese and use your hands to form the mixture into a small ball. The recipe makes about 4 dozen balls, depending on size.

Toasted pecan and rosemary coating (this makes enough to coat about 4 dozen balls)

  • 1 cup pecans
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

Place the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and shake to make a single layer. Cook, tossing often, until they have a nutty aroma. This will only take a couple of minutes. Remove from the skillet and when cooled, chop finely. Season with the salt and rosemary.

Za’atar coating: Za’atar is a spice condiment that is made from toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac and salt. I bought mine at a farmer’s market and then added additional toasted sesame seeds.

Goat Cheese Truffles Can Be Prepare A Day Ahead

After forming all the cheese balls, roll them in the coating mixture and place on a platter. I rolled half in the pecan mixture and the other half in the za’atar toasted sesame mixture. Cover the truffles and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving for the flavors to meld. The savory goat cheese truffles can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Take them out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

If you wish, skewer the goat cheese truffles with a pretzel stick. If you use the pretzel sticks, insert them just before serving so that the pretzels don’t become soggy. You can also serve them with decorative toothpicks.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffle With Pretzel Stick

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The savory goat cheese truffles are such an easy appetizer to put together, they take no time at all. What I liked most about this simple appetizer is that it is very versatile. The proportion of goat cheese to cream cheese can be changed to suit your taste. If you have guests that don’t like goat cheese, make them with all cream cheese or perhaps replace it with blue cheese. For a sweeter tasting cheese truffle, add a bit more dried fruit. Instead of using minced dried fruits, you could use sun-dried tomatoes or olives for a totally savory cheese truffle. Instead of using za’atar, you could roll half the balls in chopped pistachios or toasted black and white sesame seeds…the possibilities for these easy appetizers are endless.

I served the goat cheese truffles on a small platter and put the pretzel sticks in a small glass container next to them and let each guest decide how they were going to eat them. Some of our friends used the pretzel sticks to pick up and eat the savory truffles while others used their fingers and simply popped them into their mouths like grapes. They were the perfect one bite appetizer that everyone could easily grab at some point during our sunset cruise. Whether you want an easy appetizer to take to a party or want a little something to serve to guests with a glass of wine, I do hope you try the savory goat cheese truffles.

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Turkey And White Bean Chili

A pot of Turkey And White Bean Chili simmering on the stove is the perfect antidote for a cold or rainy day. Made with shredded turkey, white cannellini beans and spices, this recipe will make you forget about the gloomy weather outside. This chili also has an ingredient you might not expect and that is ground tortilla chips. Not only do they add flavor, they help thicken the chili as well.

Turkey And White Bean Chili

Turkey And White Bean Chili

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 of a large onion, chopped
  • 1 hot red chile (I used Fresno), seeded and diced
  • 1 green jalapeño chile, seeded and diced
  • 1 poblano chile, charred, peeled, seeded and diced * See Tips
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle chile power
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 c. cooked turkey, torn into bit size pieces (I used smoked turkey breast)
  • 1 large can of cannellini beans (19 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 2 c. chicken stock (more if needed to thin chili)
  • 1/4 c. ground tortilla chips (made from a couple of hand full of chips)

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and just starting to color. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the spices, stir well and cook for another minute.

Add the turkey, beans and stock and mix well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the ground tortillas to help thicken the chili and simmer for about 5 more minutes or until the chili reaches the desired consistency. If the chili is too thick, thin it with a little chicken stock or water. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. Ladle the chili into bowls and serve. If you like, you can serve condiments such as diced jalapeños, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro or tortilla chips as toppings for the chili.

Tips: This is a quick and easy meal to prepare and can be adapted to your taste.

  1. I like to char poblano peppers and peel them before cooking. I find the tough outer skin difficult to digest. I char them on the open flame of my gas stove then put them in a covered bowl to steam for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, the skin slips right off. While this step is not necessary, I find that charring adds flavor to the pepper.
  2. Chipotle and ancho chile powders are dried, ground peppers and should not to be confused with chili powder, which is a blend of ground chilies and other spices. Ancho chile powder  has a moderately spicy but rich flavor. Chipotles are smoked jalapeño chiles and chipotle chile powder has a smoky, sweet, spicy flavor.
  3. The chili would be equally good substituting rotisserie chicken for the turkey.
  4. If you like tomatoes in your chili, you might add a small can of diced Rotel tomatoes, either mild or hot, depending on how hot the fresh chiles are that you use in the chili.
  5. To remove some of the heat from chile peppers, I like to take out the seeds and the veins.
  6. I suggest you uses gloves when working with chiles if you have sensitive skin and be sure to never touch you face or eyes while working with them. Wash you hands carefully after handling them.
  7. If you notice, I did not add salt to this recipe because of the chicken stock and the tortilla chips which are both salted. I taste right before serving, then add salt if needed.
  8. Lastly, you might notice I’ve used both spellings of chile and chili…it all depends on where you live. For this recipe, chile refers to the plant and its dried, ground peppers  and chili refers to this recipe which is turkey and white bean chili.

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The turkey and white bean chili is a very flavorful recipe although it is not very hot, spice wise. You can adjust the heat of the chili making it as mild or as hot as you like by the kind of chile peppers that you decide to use. The next time you have a gloomy or cold day, think about making a pot of this comforting and healthy turkey and white bean chili. Serve it in colorful bowls and think warm and happy thoughts.

 

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Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Fall off the bone tender Short Ribs of Beef that have been slowly braised then piled on top of truffle mashed potatoes and drizzled with a red wine sauce is one of the most comforting meals you can imagine. Go into a nice restaurant this time of the year and you will usually see a dish like this on the menu. Thankfully the short ribs are so easy to prepare that you can make them in your own kitchen. Serve this meal for a Sunday supper or at a dinner party and make everyone at your table happy.

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  • bone in short ribs, about 2 per person, trimmed of excess fat
  • salt and pepper (use salt sparingly)*
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil plus an additional 1 Tbsp.
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. flour plus an additional 2 Tbsp. (I use Wondra)
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 c. red wine
  • 4 c. beef or veal stock (low sodium preferable)
  • 1 c. mushroom broth (made by soaking several pieces of dried porcini mushroom in a cup of boiling water, then strained through a coffee filter) OR 1 c. water
  • 2 Tbsp. butter

*Note: You will be reducing the stock, so be careful with how much salt you use in this recipe, particularly if you’re using beef stock with sodium in it.

Salt the short ribs lightly* and season with pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a ovenproof pot and when hot add the meat fat side down. Working in batches, if necessary, brown the meat on all sides then remove to a plate and drain rendered fat from the pot.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot. When hot add the onions, celery and carrot and sauté until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add 1 Tbsp. flour, stir well, then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring until tomato paste darkens. Add the red wine, scraping up all the brown bits and cook until reduced by half. Add thyme, bay leaves, beef stock and mushroom broth or water and stir well.  Return the short ribs to the pot, bone side up, with any juices. The liquid should almost cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven. Braise for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until very tender. Check once or twice while cooking and if the liquid has cooked down too much, add additional water or broth.

(If you would like to prepare the short ribs a day ahead, you can stop at this point and refrigerate. The next day, remove the solidified fat on top and reheat. Then proceed with the recipe.)

Remove from the oven, set the short ribs aside and cover to keep warm. Strain the broth in a gravy separator. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Make a roux by melting the butter in the same pot over medium heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of flour, whisk until a paste forms. Gradually whisk in the reserved broth, eliminating any accumulated fat in the gravy separator then simmer until it becomes a sauce consistently. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If not serving the short ribs immediately, you can cover and keep them in a low oven for about 30-45 minutes.

Serve the short ribs on a bed of mashed potatoes, polenta or noodles and top with some of the reduced red wine sauce.

Truffle Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 russet potato per person, I used two, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • half and half or cream, enough needed for the consistency you prefer
  • butter to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • white truffle oil to taste

Cook the potatoes and garlic cloves in a large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in the half and half, and the butter then mash until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper then drizzle with a little white truffle oil.

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The tender short ribs that are braised in a red wine sauce are a comforting meal, especially during the cold weather season. Served on a bed of truffle mashed potatoes, you will think you are in heaven after the first bite. While I served the short ribs with truffle mashed potatoes, they are also excellent with creamy polenta or noodles.

Thankfully the short ribs are easy to prepare and can even be done the day before. Actually, if you have the time to wait, the flavor improves after a day in the sauce. This makes a meal which is perfect for entertaining your friends. Easy and delicious…it doesn’t get much better than that. Enjoy!

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The Serras, One Of Barcelona’s Top Boutique Hotels

The Serras, a stylish 5 star boutique hotel, is located at the edge of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter on the tree lined Passeig de Colom and just across the road from the city’s picturesque yacht filled Port Vell Marina. While Barcelona is known for its celebrated architecture, The Serras hotel can boast a bit of celebrity itself.

The Serras, Barcelona

The original architect of the building was Francesc Daniel Molina, who designed Placa Reial, one of Barcelona’s finest squares. The 19th century building is also known as being the site of artist Pablo Picasso’s first studio.

In a city known for great hotels, delicious food, and terrific nightlife, how does a visitor decide on where to stay when visiting Barcelona. My husband and I decided to stay at The Serras, not because of its history or being one of Barcelona’s trendiest hotels, but because of its location and its fine reputation for exceptional service.

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

The location is great for exploring Barcelona. The hotel is an easy walk to the waterfront, Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s most popular streets and the trendy El Born district. If you don’t feel like doing a lot a walking, the hop on, hop off bus has stops a short walk away for visiting Passeig de Garcia, the famous avenue known for high end shopping and many of the city’s famous landmarks such as Sagrada Família. The airport is a short 15 minute taxi ride away from the hotel.

Arriving early in the morning from Barcelona’s cruise port, we were instantly greeted, our luggage gathered from the taxi, shown into the reception area and welcomed by the concierge team. We were offered a refreshing washcloth, a cold glass of cava and chocolates, quickly checked in and our luggage stored. We were given a tour around the hotel, then given a map and suggestions of places we might enjoy visiting until our room became available.

The stylish decor is a combination of Mediterranean modern and cosmopolitan New York loft. The fresh modern look of steel, light woods, mirror and glass along with neutral colors of white, black and browns are combined with mustard and blue upholstered sofas and chairs, creating a striking yet relaxed, comfortable feel.

The library and bar called Le Nine is located on the mezzanine which overlooks the lobby and restaurant. It is a nice place to relax with a morning coffee or a cocktail before or after dinner.

The Serras is well known for its beautiful roof top terrace and cocktail bar, El Sueño. The view couldn’t be better as it overlooks the Port Vell Marina and the Mediterranean beyond. It is a delightful place to enjoy an afternoon cocktail, have a few tapas or relax on one of the lounge chairs around the little plunge pool.

We returned from a morning of exploring some of the narrow streets and passages in the medieval Gothic Quarter that lies just behind the hotel and were shown our room. Our Grand Deluxe room had a kingsize bed (the mattress is the same as those in Buckingham Palace, no less), a cozy lounge area with a large TV, a desk with an iPod dock and a smart phone to use during your stay. The bathroom had a large walk in rain shower and the room had a minibar with a Nespresso coffee machine and a tea maker. On a table next to the floor to ceiling windows and balcony that looks out towards the marina, there was a bottle of chilled cava, some tapas and a welcome note from the staff.

The hotel’s restaurant is called Informal, with a kitchen led by Michelin starred chef Marc Gascons, owner of Els Tinars in Girona, Spain. The team he has put into place creates Catalan cuisine with a creative twist in an open kitchen. As foodies, we enjoyed watching the chefs prepare the evening meals. Directly behind the dining tables, large glass windows look out at a side street where people watching vies for your attention between courses. The food is excellent, so good we dined there two nights out of our three night stay.

All too soon our visit to Barcelona was over. After packing, we headed down to breakfast while the concierge team collected our luggage. After checking out, the team loaded the luggage into a waiting taxi they had ordered for us the night before, we said our goodbyes and headed to the airport.

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The Serras is a beautiful hotel with a terrific staff. The front door man always greeted us by name and inquired if we were enjoying Barcelona, the concierge team offered helpful suggestions, the food and beverage manager made sure we had a table when we wanted to dine a second evening at the Informal without a reservation, and the kitchen team dealt with special requests and treated us to a delicious dessert, they were all special.

Of course there is also its perfect location, the lovely room, afternoon cocktails with a splendid view on the rooftop terrace and the complimentary smart phone with local GPS to use so that we never got lost in Barcelona…my husband and I loved everything about our stay. As a matter of fact, my husband refers to it as the nonexistent “perfect hotel”. I hope one day you too will get a chance to discover The Serras, it really is one of Barcelona’s top boutique hotels.

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Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù is very much like a pasta dish you will find in Italy. If you have traveled to Tuscany, more than likely you had pappardelle al cinghiale, a wide pasta served with a rich sauce of wild boar, tomatoes and red wine. While you will find this much loved dish served all year in Tuscany and some other regions of Italy at both local trattorias and fine dining establishments, it is most popular during the fall hunting season and into the winter.

Braised Pork Ragù With Pappardelle Pasta

Since I don’t had access to wild boar in our small seaside town in Florida, although it can be ordered online from suppliers such as D’Artagnan, I made my version of this classic Tuscan recipe with pork shoulder which is also known as pork butt or Boston butt depending on where you live.

The best way to cook either wild boar or the pork shoulder is by slowly braising the meat in wine and stock in the oven or on the stove top until it is tender. It can also be prepared in a slow cooker and I’ve given directions for it as well.

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

Serves 6 to 8, generously

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder also known as pork butt or Boston butt, fat trimmed if necessary (approx. 3 – 4 lb.)
  • 1/2 tsp. each of salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 c. beef or chicken stock, or as needed
  • 1 large can whole Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
  • 4 oz. of dried pappardelle per person, cooked according to package directions
  • Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, optional
  • Fresh chopped parsley or basil, optional for a garnish

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottom Dutch oven or oven proof pot over medium high heat. Season the meat with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, add to the pot and brown on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add the wine, scrape the bottom to loosen the browned bits and let cook until reduced by half. Add the herbs, stock and tomatoes. Add the meat back to the pot, it should be immersed in the braising liquid, if not add a little more stock or water, if necessary. Lower the heat, cover the pot and cook at a gentle simmer for about three and a half to four hours, stirring now and then. If the sauce is gets dry, add a little stock or water. If the sauce is a little too thin, crack the lid a little for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The meat is done when it is fork tender.

Remove the meat from the sauce and let cool enough to handle. Pull the pork apart with a fork, discarding any fat. Skim any accumulated fat from the sauce, remove the bay leaf and sprigs of herbs and return the pork to the sauce and reheat.

When ready to serve your meal, cook the pasta according to directions on the box. When done, save about a cup of the water and drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss carefully. If it seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water. Serve, topped with cheese and parsley or basil, if desired.  Any additional sauce can be served on the side.

Optional Slow Cooker Instructions: Place onions and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker. Season the pork with the spices. Heat oil in a sauté pan and sear the pork on all sides.  Place pork on the bed of onions in the slow cooker. Deglaze the sauté pan with the wine, pour over the pork, then add the remaining ingredients. Cover with lid and start the slow cooker. It will probably take 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low, depending on your slow cooker and the size of the pork. When done, it should be tender enough to pull apart with a fork.

Recipe Notes:

  • The meat sauce can be braised on the stove top, in the oven at 350 degrees or in a slow cooker. The time will vary on the method used but you will know the meat is done when you can pull it apart with a fork.
  • The sauce can be prepared with white wine, if you prefer.
  • If you have access to wild boar, use it in place of the pork. If so, the cooking time may be longer.
  • If you would like, additional seasonings such as oregano, basil, and sage can be added as well as chopped carrots or celery.
  • The meat sauce can be prepared a couple of days in advance and refrigerated.
  • The dish can also be made with beef, lamb or venison. Adjust times as necessary.
  • The pork can also be served with another thick pasta, polenta or even mashed potatoes.

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

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This classic Tuscan pasta dish is perfect anytime of the year but it is especially good in the fall and winter. Like most meats that are braised, the longer this dish is simmered, the better the flavor. This is one of those recipes that seems to get better after it sits so it is perfect for when you want to cook a meal for friends. The braised pork ragù can be made a day or two in advance, refrigerated then reheated right before you cook the pasta for your guests…perfect no hassle entertaining.

 

 

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Happy New Year

HAPPNEYEAR

Firework Celebration

 

Let’s celebrate

With midnight fireworks and Champagne toasts

Here is to you my friends, both far and near

Have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year

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All the best, Karen

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My Christmas Wish

Warmest Christmas Wishes

May I extend my warmest wishes

for a Christmas Day filled with

the love of family

and the company of good friends

May the joy of Christmas 

be with you and yours

and may it be filled with happiness and peace

With warmest wishes, Karen

 

 

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