Friday, June 27, 2008

Euro Soccer Championships

Any one else have a household following the European soccer championship games?
The big finale is this Sunday and it is Germany vs. Spain. My guys are talking soccer, I'm talking menu. Watch this space for what I whip up. Got some ideas for me -- either based on German or Spanish food traditions -- leave a note below.

Update: The game has just started! I decided on an unconventional tortilla espana made with potato chips. I've made it before and it was great! I'll post some pix and directions later. Now, back to the game.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Click and Win -- Cookbook Sweepstakes from DK Publishing

One of my favorite cookbook publishers is having a summer sweepstakes. Entries are due July 7, so if you want to participate, get clicking! Here's the info directly from DK:

Summer cuisine is all about grilling and cooking light. This summer, DK has two fabulous new cookbooks to help you do both - GRILL IT! and SPAIN AND THE WORLD TABLE. Don’t miss this opportunity to enter our Summer Cookbook Sweepstakes and have the chance to win a copy of these great books and a set of kitchen utensils from the Culinary Institute of America (Total Approximate Retail Value: $159.00).

No purchase necessary. Entries must be received no later than July 7, 2008 11:59 Eastern Time. Winner will be selected on or about July 14, 2008. Void where prohibited by law. Open to residents of the Continental United States and the District of Columbia ages 18 and older.
Click here for complete details and Official Rules.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Indian Cooking Class -- Samosas and More

Here are some photos of the Indian cooking class I took at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. Eventually I'll post the recipes and directions for making samosas, raitas and more. To see all the photos without the slide show -- go here. To see the slide show and info for the Laotian cooking class, go here.

Cold Asian Noodles for a Hot, Hot Day

Once again Northern California is having a heat wave, and once again I need something cool, refreshing and a bit jazzy to perk up me and my taste buds.

Cold Asian Noodles with Lots of Shredded Veggies and a Peanut-Tofu Sauce
Serves 8 or more as a appetizer or as part of a multi-course Chinese meal. Serves 6 as a main course

Trust me, tofu nay-sayer’s won’t even know its there and you’ll save a ton of fat and calories plus boost the dish’s nutrition.

1 pound fresh Asian noodles (try Chinese chow mein or egg noodles, Japanese soba or udon) or fresh or dried fettucine. (Note: the buckwheat soba will be a heartier taste.)
1 tbs Asian toasted sesame oil
½ cup water or vegetable broth
4-6 tbs of peanut butter (I use a natural chunky style)
8 oz of firm tofu, rinsed, drained and cut into large chunks
1 tsp fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tbs apple cider vinegar or Chinese rice vinegar
3 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1tsp Asian toasted sesame oil
Assorted shredded vegetables – cucumbers, zucchinis, carrots, red peppers, snow peas, scallions, etc. (About 1½ to 2 cups total, or more or less if you like)
Chopped cilantro and additional chopped scallions for garnish

Cook the noodles as per package directions. Drain, rinse, drain and toss in the 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil in large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Prepare the sauce. Combine in a food processor or blender the water, 4 tbs of the peanut butter, the tofu chunks, the ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and the 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Blend until smooth and combined. Taste. Add additional peanut butter if desired and process again until incorporated and smooth. (The color will be much lighter than commercial peanut sauces, but so are the fat and calories, once the sauce is mixed with the noodles it will look fine and taste great.)

Pour about half of the sauce into the bowl with the noodles. Toss well, mixing the sauce in completely. Add more sauce as needed, tossing well after each addition. Toss in about half of the shredded vegetables, mixing in evenly throughout the noodles. Just before serving, scatter remaining shredded vegetables on top of noodles. Sprinkle garnish on top. Serve at room temperature or cold (well not ice cold, let them warm up in the room for 10-15 minutes before serving). Leftovers keep extremely well and any left over sauce keeps well in an airtight container for a few days. (Leftover sauce is good for not just a new batch of noodles, try it on steamed green beans or potatoes or other vegetables.)

This recipe is part of Sweetnick's weekly roundup of Antioxidant Rich Foods. You can view all the submissions here.

Note: My starting point for this recipe was from an old Weight Watchers’ cookbook, Stir-Fry to Szechuan: 100 Classic Chinese Recipes. I don’t know how “classic” the recipes truly are, but I do credit the book for helping me figure out how to make my peanut noodles and eat them, too.

Weight watchers – I have no idea how much sauce you’ll actually use when you make the dish – but figuring if you used every last bit, that’s roughly about 5 points for 8 servings, or if you make a meal out of it about 6 points for 6 servings. It’s a bit more if you go for the extra peanut butter in the sauce.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Five or Less Challenge

I've been inpsired by One Hot Stove's July Monthly Blog Patrol Challenge --- find a recipe from a food blog I read that is five ingredients or less --- Here's the info from OHS on her challenge and round up rules (deadline is July 25, 2008).

The round up got me thinking, just how elaborate are my recipes? While many are homey, comfort foods, most require more than five ingredients just because of the seasonings. Only fat, including oils and cooking spray, salt, and water or broth or exempt from the five-ingredient count.)

To bad the number of ingredients wasn't seven, I'd have a lot of contenders, I just use so many darn spices and herbs! Here's a few of my recipes that make the count: green chicken soup; NY-Style Chocolate Egg Cream and Jody's Mom's Grilled Salad.

I hope to participate in the round up myself and will post what I make.

Anyone have any five-ingredients or less recipes from the blog-o-sphere that they would recommend? Let me know.

Update: Well, I found a recipe from for sliced green beans and carrots. Simple but sounded perfect as a side dish. Unfortunately I ran out of time with all my travels and won't be able to post it.
About the photo: FIVE cabbages in old town Lisbon

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs with Miso Glaze

Once in a great while there is a dish that reaches out and grabs you by the taste buds and reels you in so you never forget it. The miso-grilled black cod at Yoshi’s Japanese restaurant in Oakland was just such a dish. The lusciousness of the fish, the sweet-salty taste of the miso marinade and the smoky char of the grill combined to make a memorable experience.

It was the memory of that dish that made me decide to buy The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger. I’m reviewing the book for Paper Palate (here's the link) and I wrote about her Double Chocolate Pudding Pie with my S’More Topping Option here.

The first chance I could I wanted to make Krieger’s Miso-Glazed Cod. But since I was cooking for a vegetarian potluck so I decided to adapt the miso marinade for tofu and vegetable kebabs. The result was:

Miso-Glazed Tofu, Mushroom and Zucchini KebabsAdapted and Inspired by Ellie Krieger's Miso-Glazed Cod, The Foods You Crave, Taunton Press
Serves 3-4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer

Note: Feel free to add more veggies to each skewer or substitute vegetables. The below just recaptures what I did. Veggies and tofu should be cut about the same size so they will grill evenly. Hard or long-cooking veggies should be partially precooked in the microwave or steamed.

8 kebab skewers
One recipe of miso marinade (see below)
1 large onion cut into 16 large chunks or several small onions cut into 16 thickish rings
12-16 ounces of firm tofu (one package), drained, rinsed, dried and cut into approx. 1” chunks
2-3 large zucchinis, cut into 16 thick slices or chunks
8 fresh shitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems cut off

If the skewers are wood or bamboo, cover them with water to soak for about a half hour or more.
Make the miso marinade (see recipe below) and set aside.
Slice or cut the onion into appropriate sized pieces. Put in a microwave safe dish with a tablespoon of water. Cover and microwave for about a minute or so until the onion pieces have just begun to soften. Set aside.
Thread the kebabs. I used a slice of zucchini, a piece of onion, a tofu chunk, another slice of zucchini, another tofu chunk followed by a second chunk or ring of onion, capped off by a fresh shitake mushroom cap.
Lightly brush the marinade over the vegetables and tofu. Cover and let the flavors absorb for at least a half hour or up to several.

Oil grill. Heat grill. Place kebabs on grill. Brush miso marinade on the kebabs. Grill, turning and brushing more marinade on as needed. When the vegetables are cooked through and the tofu is nicely charred, remove from grill. Serve with a splash of soy sauce or Chinese black rice vinegar if desired. Pass chili paste on the side (optional).

Miso Marinade
1/3 cup white miso
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of Asian toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons of mirin (Japanese rice wine for cooking)

Combine all ingredients.

Update:  Paper Palate and its links are long gone, so thank goodness for the Wayback Machine and it's internet archives.  You can see the original post here, along with a few other recipes from the book. (6/15)

Craving S'More Pie

I’m reviewing the book The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger of Food Network fame over at Paper Palate. Here's the link.

I won’t spoil the surprise of what I think of the book, but I will say I enjoyed the three recipes I made from it, although it was hard for me to make them exactly as written.

Over at Paper Palate, I’ve posted Krieger’s Snowpea and Radish Salad recipe, but here at Blog Appétit we are going to explore the deeper, darker, more chocolately side of The Food You Crave – The Double Chocolate Pudding Pie. And because I can’t keep my hands off a good thing, I made it into a s’more pie. (A shout out goes to the blog Smitten Kitchen for that inspiration. SK's version is includes homemade marshmallow topping. See it here.)

Krieger’s recipe, as written, is a great calorie “value” with lots of luscious dark chocolate taste. It is not too sweet and is not a lot of calories for what after all is a chocolate pie (255 for an eighth of the pie serving according to the book). Adding the marshmallow topping will add about 75 calories per serving, so you may decide not to gild the lily and just go with Krieger’s suggestion, a decorative fringe of freshly whipped cream. The pie would also be delightful topped or served with seasonal berries.

Double Chocolate Pudding Pie with S’More OptionAdapted from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, Taunton Press

Cooking Spray
7 full sheets of graham crackers (I hate to say it but use the regular commercial ones, I had to throw out a crust made with the organic whole wheat, molasses and honey ones – it was like cardboard, or maybe make your own graham crackers).
2 tablespoons butter, softened (the recipe didn't say, but I use unsalted for baking)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (which is one packet of Knox)
1/3 cup boiling water
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Krieger doesn’t specify, but I think a natural process will give you more chocolate flavor than the Dutch type in this recipe. It doesn’t dissolve in milk as well, so make sure you really mix it until it’s smooth.)
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups lowfat milk (I used 1 percent)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Making the crust: Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with the cooking spray. Grind the graham crackers in a food processer until very fine. Add the butter and water and whirl around until the mixture begins to come together. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up about 1 inch on the sides of the pie tin. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preparing the filling: Put the gelatin in a small bowl, add the boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Set aside, stirring occasionally allowing the mixture to thicken but not get too solid. Mix the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Add half the milk, mix well until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk. Put the pan on medium heat and stir constantly (Krieger recommends whisking) until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil (about 10 minutes, mine too a little longer). Remove from the heat. Stir in the chocolate until melted. Add in the vanilla and the gelatin mix. Stir. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pie shell. Refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

Whipped Cream Topping Option: Whip ¼ cup cold heavy cream in an electric mixer until it is “halfway” to soft peaks. Add in ½ teaspoon sugar and then whip until it “barely holds” a soft peak. Krieger recommends putting the whipped cream in a pastry bag or a ziplock with a corner cut off and piping a decorative pattern around the edge of the pie. You could also just put a dollop of the good stuff on top of each slice as you serve it.

S’More Pie Option: Once the pie is cold and right before serving, spread a jar of marshmallow fluff or cream (7 to 7.5 ounces depending on brand) on top. Smooth the cream out. (My son, now known as the former future pastry chef, who helped with this recipe, found it easiest to use an offset spatula for the job.) Then, watching the pie like a hawk, you can brown the marshmallow topping under the broiler for that traditional “s’more” look. We used our handy-dandy crème brulee butane torch for the job. I suspect using the torch was Noah’s whole reason for helping me make the pie, but I digress.

Note: The s’more topping doesn’t hold well, although the unadorned pie lasts for a few days in the refrigerator. Top the pie right before serving and keep it cold for the easiest serving and best taste.

Believe it or not, the pie came out very adult tasting. Of course, the marshmallow topping added some sweetness, but the whole experience was much less sweet than I anticipated and had a nicely balanced flavor. I suspect it had something to do with the dark chocolate filling not being as sweet as a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. If your crowd isn’t in to retro desserts, a little whipped cream and a few berries will definitely elicit oohs and ahhs and balance the chocolate well.

Update: Paper Palate and its links are no more, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can see that post here. (6/15)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pickles With a Purpose -- Kosher Half Sours Help Students Connect with Heritage and More

My son, the one once known as the Future Pastry Chef (now we think he could be the Future Architect), aka Noah, attends a Jewish high school. Every day starts off with a morning prayer session to help center the kids and make them mindful of their shared heritage and interests.

Students at the school can pick from a variety of morning prayer meetings ranging from very traditional to very non-traditional. Noah, or Rusty as he is self-nicknamed (long story and too much of a digression for here), chose one that combines food with discussion and religious study as away of achieving a connection with meditation and prayer. That’s my boy.

One activity that explored those connections was preparing the traditional Jewish-style pickle. I was thrilled to find out about this project, because, to be honest, 17-year-old young men don’t often tell their moms what they did at school that day, and because of my personal pickle history.

First, I am of Eastern European Jewish heritage, so kosher-style cucumber pickles, crunchy, garlicky and sour, are part of my food heritage. Second, my grandfather is said to have hid one night in an empty pickle barrel from the Russian troops when his family was trying to escape czarist Russia. Next, I’m an ex-New Yorker, with a fondness for both the historic and modern Lower East Side, home of some of the last open pickle barrels and the setting for the movie Crossing Delancy, where Amy Irving finds true love with a pickle maker. One of the entries I researched and wrote for the food encyclopedia that was published last year was on the business of pickle making. Lastly, my husband and I are big pickle fans, enjoying all sorts from all cuisines.
Here’s the directions for My Very Excellent Manchild Just Served Us Nice Pickles (which I think you’ll agree taste out of this world).

The recipe is as used at Jewish Community High School, San Francisco, CA. When I make these myself, I’ll rework it, if needed, to reflect my experience. Meantime, this process resulted in a pickle with lots of crunch, taste and history in every bite. The school cites the website Wild Fermentation as a resource. It’s full of info and recipes for making pickles and other fermented foods.

Half-Sour Pickles

These pickles, called Zelig's Pickles at the school, after the pickle expert who helped the students make them (I think, Noah was a bit fuzzy on this) "are raw and lacto-fermented, made in the old style without vinegar. Natural fermentation creates pickles rich in live, active cultures, anti-oxidants, enzymes, and an abundance of nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet.”
(Quoted from the recipe shared with the students.)

1. Place at bottom of 5 gallon crock (or food grade bucket) 1 cup fresh grape leaves (for crispiness), 1.5 cup fresh dill, 5 cups whole fresh garlic cloves (approx 12 heads), 1 cup dry bay leaves, 1 cup mixed pickling spice (wrap in cheese cloth and toss in bottom of crock for best results).

2. Fill crock with fresh, clean pickling cucumbers.

3. Cover with salt water (brine) with a ratio of 3/4 cup sea salt per gallon water For 5 gallon batch, dissolve 3 cups salt in 4 gallons warm/tepid water . . . then pour brine over cucumbers until cukes are completely submerged.

4. Completely cover/seal crock with sturdy plastic bag (double bag to prevent breakage/spillage) filled with water so that the pickles are submerged in brine and pickles and brine are not exposed to air.

5. Leave crock at room temperature for approximately eight days. The warmer it is, the faster the pickles will ferment and sour. Six-to-eight days will generally result in a very fresh, crispy pickle. For a sourer pickle, ferment longer.

6. For storage: pack pickles in glass mason jars and fill with brine so that pickles are submerged. Refrigerate to prevent further fermentation. Sealed jars can be stored for six or more months if kept in refrigerator.

Dill Pickles on Foodista

All My Links

May We Recommend -- The Blog Appetit Blog Roll -- Some Other Websites and Blogs You Might Savor

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

10 Days in Barcelona

It’s been more than eight years since I spent my 10 days in Barcelona, but the city still holds me in its thrall. How can you not fall in love with a city (and environs) that offers architecture, art, shopping, history, natural beauty, good food, entertainment and a vibrant street life? Not to mention reasonably priced sparkling wine and hot chocolate as thick as pudding.

Because I have some friends going to Barcelona in a week or so I thought I would share some of the highlights of my trip. I don’t intend for this to be an all encompassing guide since my trip was so long ago, but I thought it would give a good taste of the city.

My favorite plaza was Placa de Pi. It and the adjacent Placa de Sant Josep Orial were ones we went back to time and again. There were pleasant outdoor cafes, a good restaurant (El Pi Antic) with wonderful grilled vegetables, mussels and crusty bread which was washed down with great cava (Spanish sparkling wine). The placa was in the Barri Gothic (old town) and an easy walk from our hotel. We went back several times enjoying the street performers and later in the week a cheese and honey market and then an art market.

The Barri Gothic was always exciting to walk through. The juxtaposition of those ancient buildings, new street sculptures the city had scattered about and the mix of tourist and traditional stores meant there was a surprise at every turn. This is not a museum district; it is part of the living city. Balconies, cobblestone streets and ancient architectural details made me feel like I had stepped back in time, although the graffiti and overheard cell phone conversations usually snapped be back to the present pretty fast.

La Rambla is a long boulevard connecting the Placa de Catalunya with the waterfront and the monument to Christopher Columbus. A wide green swath with sidewalks is in the middle of it. Each section bears a different street name and features different vendors ranging from magazines and books to birds. Street performers abound. It is colorful and very entertaining. I understand it was once the turf of those who tourists would do well to avoid but was cleaned up for the 1992 Olympics. It was a safe and exciting place filled with locals promenading and visitors snapping pictures of the human statues and the like and the scene there seemed to go on long past midnight.

Walking along La Rambla to Placa de Catalunya you could find a few of my favorite Barcelona stops – Boadas cocktail bar, La Boqueria and El Corte Ingles.

Boadas is a cocktail bar dating from the 1930s. Inside is all dark wood and Art Deco. Each day a different classic cocktail is on special and to watch the bartenders shake, stir and pour your libation is to watch poetry in motion. The cocktails were some of the best I’ve had anywhere.

La Boqueria is Barcelona’s famed public market. It was undergoing renovation when I was there, but even with just half of the market open it was truly awe inspiring. Besides assortments of beautiful fruits and vegetables and the like, the market has lots of prepared food ideal for a take away meal.

El Corte Ingles is my favorite department store in the world. I’ve been to ones in Lisbon, Madrid (several branches, two different trips) and Seville. Besides the excellent department store shopping, it boasts reasonably priced, good quality souvenirs and a wonderful food hall (although with La Boqueria near by, I would make that my food shopping priority in Barcelona).

Getting around Barcelona is fairly easy by metro and bus. It is an easy city to walk. There was also a tourist bus that connected most of the famous sights for a flat fee run by the city. You could buy multi-day tickets and get on and off as much as you liked. Information and tickets were available at the very helpful tourist information storefront near the Placa de Catalunya.

Modernista architecture is one of the qualities that makes Barcelona so special. Gaudi is the most famous of these Art Novueau architects. Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell are worth a trip to Barcelona on their own, but other architects have left buildings as elaborately decorated as wedding cakes around the city. My favorite of the others is the Palau de la Musica (try to go when you can take a tour inside.) Be sure to seek out the little snack bar at Parc Guell, on top of what was to have been the market place, built into a cave near the undulating mosaic benches. Enjoy an orange bitters soda along with the view.

Barcelona has many fine museums, too many for me, even with my 10-day stay. My favorites were the City Museum with its Roman ruins and the Maritime Museum, with its recreations and Viking ship. I was left unimpressed by the Picasso Museum, although I know plenty of people who claim it as a highlight of their trip. When I was there the exhibits were Picasso’s student works and his late-in-life erotic drawings. The palace the museum is housed in is wonderful and the district around it was filled with interesting shops and boutiques and my favorite cava bar – El Xampanyet. Besides the sparkling wine, the bar also served hard cider and a wonderful assortment of seafood tapas.

Speaking of tapas, there are many places to enjoy them throughout the city. Often the tapas are on display through glass counters which makes it easy to point to what you’d like if you are shy about trying to communicate or uncertain exactly what’s in a dish.

I didn’t have a bad meal in the city. My most impressive was at the beautiful (and expensive) Jean Luc Figueras. This was years before I had even heard of a food blog, so I’m sorry to say there are no photos of the food or even any descriptions of what I ate that night. It was wonderful will have to do. It was also the first place I ever had a chocolate lava-style cake. (Trust me to remember about the dessert.) The restaurant is now known as Kresala and still garners raves for its tasting menu.

I stayed at Le Meriden, right off La Rambla. Walking across La Rambla let me straight into the Barri Gothic. Walking the other way took me into a district that reminded me of New York’s Soho in the 1970s and early 1980s – a gentrifying arts district. I set out in search of a horchatateria (a restaurant featuring horchata, a drink made from almond-tasting roots), but the drink was not in season and I settled for a wonderful milk and lemon fizz. I’m still trying to figure out how that concoction could exist without curdling in the glass or later in my stomach.

There was so much I was impressed with, I couldn’t begin to list them all , but here’s a few things I didn’t find worth the effort: the flea market, the Poble Espanyol (supposedly a collection of Spanish villages from all regions), and the arts and crafts market at the base of La Rambla.

Among the must sees is the weekly performance of the sardana. Every Sunday at noon, locals gather to participate in this folk dance at the base of the cathedral. (I understand there is also a sardana assemblage on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., but I didn’t go then.) An orchestra plays, women tie on espadrilles for the dance and tourists and passersby are encouraged to join the circles of dancers. You can watch from the cathedral steps are you can join in. Either way it gives you a feel for the vibrant connection that people of Catalonia have for their culture and past.

Another way to understand this link is to visit Montserrat which houses the Black Virgin, sacred to most Catalonians. There is a monastery with a boys’ choir, an art museum, a funicular to go to the top of the mountain and wander among the paths of the national park and perhaps visit some of the hermitages scattered through the rocky mountainside. There is a wonderful art museum, a cafeteria, a great bakery featuring “rocs” which are giant meringue cookies filled with hazelnuts, and a large gift store featuring everything from religious items to camping supplies. The site played a significant role in several wars but what held the most power for me were the bins and bins of items donated to the church in honor of promises made to the Black Virgin for her intervention. (There are buses directly to Montserrat, but another option is to take a train to an aerial cable car and get to Montserrat from Barcelona that way.)

Another side trip I would recommend is to the beautiful wine making regions. I went to cava country and toured Codorniu. If you don’t have a car, the train stops right by the Frexienet winery.

I also enjoyed a day trip to the Costa Brava. I was able to take a boat along the coast from Blanes to Tossa de Mar, where I had lunch at the edge of the Mediterranean and bought my beautiful yellow and green traditional mortar and pestle from a local shopkeeper (who was the nly person I came across in Catalonia who seemed to speak exclusively Catalonian). Both Blanes and Tossa de Mar are accessible by train and commercial boat trips are available during the summer along the coast.

I also went to Girona, which I enjoyed, with its riverside old town and shopping district, cathedral and call (Jewish quarter). That same day we went to Figueres to see the Salvador Dali Museum. The museum works best if you think of it almost like an installation of performance art. Is it worth a special trip? I didn’t think so, but if you are going up to Girona anyway and you are a fan of Dali and/or the absurd it is well worth the extra time.

Back in Barcelona, ask your concierge to help you find out about local nightclub shows. Featuring popular songs sung in Catalonian with half-clad showgirls, minimal plots and an audience filled with what appeared to be happy French middle-aged businessmen, it was an evening harkening back to what my vision of the Stork Club and other famous nightclubs must have been like back in the day. I went to the Barcelona City Hall nightclub, but there were a number of others. You don’t need to understand the language to understand what’s going on – it’s a good time, shared by all.
I no longer have the links to the websites I used to plan my trip. But here are a few I found you might find helpful:

I didn’t find an English link to the Barcelona City Hall nightclub, but from what I did run across it might now be a venue for assorted contemporary music concerts. I hope some of the nightclub culture is still there in Barcelona, it really was very special.

There is so much more I would love to share. Maybe I’ll do another post about Barcelona sometime. In the meantime, as always, please feel free to use the comments section to add your suggestions, updates and links.
Photo to come: This trip was pre digital camera; I have to scan some pix in!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Oh La La -- Guide to Saving Money While Seeing the Paris Sights

This is the part two of the budget Paris guide I promised last time. Again, double check the info, my experience is all a few years old. Prices, weblinks and other info may have changed.

I speak from experience that it is easy to be over ambitious about what you plan to see and do. It is so easy in Paris to just stumble into something you never expect you never quite get around to seeing Notre Dame. Despite everything I read I was also unprepared for the unbelievable long lines to get into some of the more popular attractions.

Here are some tips:

Consider buying a museum pass, available at tourist offices and most big museums. When I went, one day was 18 euros, three days was 36. There is also a five day pass for (I think) 54 euros.

It is an expense, but if you want to see the Louvre and the D’Orsay, it will literally save you hours in line to get in. It is good at a huge number of museums. Check out this site for a list of participating museums and check out this one for a list of Paris museums with opening hours, prices, and descriptions of collections. The pass does save you the admission price, as well.

Consider going to some of the less well known museums. Check the metropoleparis site. For example, the Marmottan has a huge collection of Monets and other impressionists and usually has no wait. Musuems owned by the City of Paris did not have an entrance fee at the time of my visit.

Skip the tourist bus tour of the city and try using the city buses. Rick Steves recommends the #69 from the Eiffel Tower to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It only costs one metro ticket, or use your Carte Orange (see my Paris guide-part one for more on that), and takes about an hour.

Cruise the Seine, but skip the big tourist boats. Take the Batobus, a water ferry service that has stops pretty much near all the big tourist spots in the city. One day’s pass was 11 euros, two days’ just two euros more when I went. Well worth it, you can combine transport with sightseeing at a big savings plus no canned commentary!

Be aware of your time budget but don’t skimp on your dreams. It took us almost two hours to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a sunny weekday. Half hour wait to pay, half hour wait to take the elevator to just the second level and then a wait to go to the top and then waiting to go down again. It was worth it, but it was an unexpected time drain. If seeing Paris from the Eiffel Tower isn’t as important to you and the line is long when you get there, visit the base, see the neighborhood, etc., and get your views elsewhere or consider coming back late afternoon. (FYI – museum pass not valid here.)

Ride the funicular in Montmartre up to the Sacre-Coeur. It is the regular metro fare and runs until about 12:30 p.m. Montmartre stays up late and there is quite a crowd up at the basilica until fairly late.

Reserve a free fashion show through the department stores. See the excellent Paris for more info on that and lots of other ideas, links and resources.

Enjoy where you are. Paris is a great city to explore without a lot of money. There are wonderful parks, the city of Paris-run museums are free, loads of cafes in interesting areas to spend a few euros and a few hours, lots of theaters and shows (there is even a half price theater kiosk) and concerts and musicals need no translation. Spend 40 cents and buy a Pariscope. It’s all in French but easy to figure out your entertainment options.

Plus there are all the wonderful shops to wander through and all that the architecture, public art and sense of style to gawk at. You can’t do everything, so do what you can well not try to do it all. After all, this is just your next trip, right? You’ll be back.

Still to come, notes on the wonderful Paris street and flea markets and some of my food experiences.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

If You Knew Paris Like I Knew Paris ... You'd Save Some Money!

It's no secret I love to travel. Unfortunately, the decreasing buying power of the U.S. dollar abroad makes choosing how and when to economize even more important.

Here is Part One of my tips for saving money when traveling to Paris. I put this list together not long after my trip a few years ago.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money of guide books or maps. The city of Paris prints a very nice guide. I got mine from a travel agent in the states, but I also saw it at the official tourism offices in Paris. I suspect you can get it from the consulates as well.
The main tourism site is
Poke around and follow the links and you’ll find info on almost anything you’d want to do in Paris. There are lots of other sites, but this one is a good place to start.

I recommend buying one really up to date guidebook that reflects the way you like to travel (Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc.) and write in it all the stuff you find from the internet and elsewhere. I was able to borrow a number of guides and reference books from my public library. The city also publishes a helpful pamplet with lots of tourist info. Check out the city's official web site (in English) for more to do and see and for special offers.

You don’t need to buy a fancy map. I mostly used the free maps that are everywhere from the department stores. My travel agent had one of those for me, too, and they are available from your hotel and the tourist offices. (In Paris, the main one is in the shopping center by the Louvre, but there are smaller ones in other locations including near the Eiffel Tower.)

It’s handy to have one of those big Michelin maps that list every alleyway in case you go off the beaten path, but I used mine from 20 years ago exactly once this last trip. Ask around and see if any of your friends can loan you one or wait until you are in Paris and buy the Plan de Paris map from a magazine kiosk. It has a blue cover. It is very reasonable.

Every metro station has free subway and bus maps, there is no need to buy one, the freebie is excellent.

Getting Around:

From the airports, take the Air France bus. It costs 12 euros each way when I went and there are several routes with convenient stops at different locations in the city. From there you can take a taxi or the metro depending on the size of your baggage and wallet. It was very easy and not too confusing for a time-lagged, non-French speaking traveler.

If the timing works for you, invest in a Carte Orange. It’s a weekly pass for the metro, bus and trains that you can buy Monday through Wednesday for the week ending that Sunday. You buy it by zones, so for example, if you plan to go to Versailles you would need to make sure you bought one that covered the zone the palace is in so you can take the train there without additional charge. (Sorry, I can’t remember its zone number).

You buy the Carte Orange at the ticket counter at the metro. Ask for the holder, too.
You’ll need to bring a photo of yourself to attach to the pass. I printed out one from my computer and sized it about 1 inch x 1 inch and it worked fine. You can also use one of the photo booths in just about every metro station and take your photo there, ala Amelie. (By the way, the bar/resto where Amelie supposedly worked in the Montmarte has become something of a tourist shrine with 20ish-something English women -- at least when I was there.)

The Carte Orange is MUCH cheaper than the official visitor metro card which is also available.

If your visit’s timing makes a Carte Orange undesirable, buy a carnet (pronounced carney) of 10 tickets, you’ll save a bit on each metro ride and feel more like a native.
The metro tickets are also good on the bus but you’ll have to use a second one if you transfer.

The metro and bus system site has some info in English and a trip planner. Click on the tourist information link if it doesn't open to the English info. Unfortunately, the Carte Orange info is only in French.

UPDATE 4/20/09 -- Things change. Please read the wonderful David Lebovitz's report on all things Metro here for the latest on your ticketing and public transit choices in Paris. I also recomend you check out his blog/website for his take on the sweet life in Paris, including his dessert and other recipes.

(For a tarte taste of the cooking class I took in Paris, click here.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Laotian Cooking Class

A few weeks ago I took a wonderful class at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on Laotian cooking. Led by instructor Sohkham Santhavilay, we chopped, ground and shredded our way to a Laotian feast featuring Chicken and Tofu Larb, Green Papaya Salad and Sticky Rice.

You can see a slide show of the cooking class here.

If you'd like to see the Photobucket album complete with descriptions, please click here.

I'll write more on the food of Laos and these recipes soon. The class is one of a series of four (the first was Korean which I missed). Tomorrow is South Asian Samosas and in two weeks is Chinese Dumplings. Watch for more on the classes!

Laotian Cooking Class at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center

Click here for more on the food of Laos on Blog Appetit.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It’s My Pantry, I’ll Cook If I Want To – Part One, With Suggestions for Okra-less Gumbo and Polenta Lasagna

We all go through it. Too busy to shop, too tired to really make anything elaborate. That’s when we play “Let’s Go into the Pantry.” (Or cupboard, or closet, or shelf as the case may be). In our house we call it “freezer shopping.” I check out the pantry, the fridge and the freezer and see what I can make that is quick, easy to make and clean up and doesn’t require a trip to the store. This past week or so, I’ve been specializing in meals from my “supplies.” My efforts are helped significantly by having a walk-in pantry, a large refrigerator and a stand-alone freezer, but it is really a game anyone can play.

The first night I felt like some gumbo. I had a package of turkey andouille sausage, but I was out of frozen okra (for some reason something I consider a staple) and file powder. No matter, I made do. After sautéing onions and garlic and browning slices of the sausage I added a can of diced tomatoes with their juices, frozen roasted corn (regular corn kernels would work just fine), frozen shelled edamame (I was out of frozen lima beans), red pepper flakes and salt and pepper, then cooked it until the flavors melded, the sauce had thickened a bit and the sausage was cooked through. The sausage gave the dish a strong Louisiana flavor. I served it over left over rice from a Chinese restaurant meal a few days earlier. It was spicy, sassy and easy.

The next day Polenta Lasagna came to my rescue. I had half a package of sweet turkey Italian sausage that I defrosted in the microwave, grilled on my panini grill, then sliced. I took a log of premade polenta, unwrapped it and sliced it lengthwise into long sections (cross sections into circles would have worked, too, but would have looked less “lasagna-like”). I opened a jar of good quality spaghetti sauce and put a smear of it down in an 8 x 12 inch glass baking dish. Then I put down a layer of polenta slices, followed by a layer of sauce, then a layer of sausage slices and then a scattering of grated parmesan cheese. I topped this with slices of provolone cheese (I didn’t have any mozzarella in the house), put a bit more sauce on top and put the next layer of polenta slices on top of that, ladled on some more tomato sauce and tore up some slices of the provolone to scatter on the top. I put the baking dish in the microwave, covered it with wax paper and cooked it until the lasagna was heated through. (I would have put in a layer of sautéed mushrooms, by the teenage boy won’t eat them so I left it out.) Another hit with the family.

Watch for It’s My Pantry, I’ll Cook If I Want To – Part Two, with directions for my skillet turkey chili and for the ultimate triumph of my “freezer shopping” week – a recipe for fresh tomato and olive pasta sauce.

Anything interesting come out of your pantry recently? Leave a comment with info on or a link to your creation below.