Recently I have received an email from Wikio that my blog is ranked 27 in the Travel & Tourisms category which was quite pleasing but at the same time feel pity because I have not been able to blog about my travels. A lot of ideas and memories have flowed into my head but hardly can get my head into it. I like writing about my travels when they are still fresh, otherwise other new things come up and then eventually lose the interest to write anymore.
Probably due to the relatively large Italian population living in Basel, we can find quite a lot of Italian ingredients here. I have come across the Baccalà (salt cod) from time to time in Manor Supermarket but I had no idea how to prepare and eat them until my last Summer holiday in Tuscany, I learnt it from Peter and Ann.
To buy, try to choose a piece that is thicker as the thicker the fish fillet, the easier it is to cook and nicer in presentation after cooking.
To prepare baccalà, you need to plan a few days ahead, depends the quality and saltiness of your baccalà. You need to soak the baccalà in a large container that is enough to lay the baccalà inside and deep enough for it to submerge fully in fresh cold water. You will need 2-3 days to hydrate the baccala completely. Change the water 3 times a day, when the baccalà is soft enough, you can peel off the skin and remove the bones using a clipper accordingly. This soaking process can be kept at room temperature, there is no refrigeration in the old days, remember? Continue to soak in water until the saltiness is gone. You can test this by breaking off a small piece to taste the saltiness. If it is ready, the soaking water should be clear and the fish would not taste salty at all. I could peel off the skin on day 1 already and I think the earlier you remove the skin, this can shorten the soaking time and make the water smells fishy.
During Easter break, we spent 3 days in Normandy and 3 days in Paris. Peter drove 957km to Normandy, the longest road trip in one go. I wish we could stay longer as 3 days in Normandy was rather short, and France is so big that you can only visit one place a day. From A to B, it always take at least an hour to get there. The most important of this trip was to pay a pilgrim visit to Mont St-Michel which I have wanted to visit for many years. If you happen to travel to Paris, it would definitely be a must-visit place to consider for a one or two day excursion. From Paris, it would still need around good 3 hours drive to get there. Mont St-Michel is said to be the Second only to the Eiffel Tower as France’s beloved landmark. Mont St-Michel is situated on the border between Normandy and Brittany, one of the first sites to obtain UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Overall, we were extremely lucky with the weather, as the weather forecast said it would rain most of the time, it did rain but mostly in the morning and then it got cleared up, felt so blessed!
So what did I do on Swiss National Day? I got a little treat and had a getaway weekend in Gruyère. On Saturday we played 18 hole at Golf de la Gruyère SA. It is a very nice golf course which is located along the side of Lake Gruyère and offers a spectacular view while playing. The good thing about this place is that you do not need to be a member of the golf course nor a handicap but you do need to have a local qualification known as Platzreife (PR).
We had a quick lunch before tee off and that day they had a set lunch which comprised some traditional regional food to celebrate the Swiss National Day.
Here is a sneak peek of what I had :
Soupe de chalet (Swiss Cottage Soup) which contains mainly Potato, Spinach, Milk, Macaroni, Gruyere cheese, Creme fraiche
Berries & Apple tarts
That day we had 30 ºC, very exhausting after playing but I was very proud of myself that I have been able to achieve HCP 36 for the very first time, well with a few mulligans, I amit but very encouraging to motivate me to play more in the future.
And after golfing, we stayed in Hotel Cailler which is located in a small village called Charmey. Cailler is one of the popular Swiss Chocolatiers but I could not figure out if there is actually any relationship between this Chocolatier and the hotel. Anyway the biggest advantage of this hotel is that it is directly accessed to the spa: Le Bains de la Gruyère. The room rate includes one time use of the spa.
And for dinner, we had a superbe dinner buffet on the hotel terrace. I was most impressed with their terrines appetizers and their desserts. The tiramisu was one of the very best I had, the texture was smooth, but not floppy despite served in bite size. I also love the local specialities: double crème de Gruyère served on top of meringues and berries, really awesome. The next day we bought some home from the fromagerie to enjoy at home.
That is the tradition wooden spoon and bucket to keep the double cream.
Of course firework is something not to be missed…… The hotel itself had organized a series of firework which the hotel guests and diners could comfortably view from the terrace or balconies.
On Sunday, we had a relaxing spa and sauna. Thereafter we drove to the village Gruyère itself, it was too crowded to visit today and decided to save for next time. We then drove up to the next village, Moléson. The temperature immediately dropped which made us wanting to have a cheese fondue which we initially did not think it’s so suitable in the summer.
We walked up to the Fromagerie d’Alpage which has a long history of 300 years old (Built in 1686, rebuilt in 1827 and renovated in 1990) It is now protected as historic monument. I prefer to this place more because of the rustic style is conserved. We went inside to the restaurant directly linked to it and immediately ordered a Fondue moitié-moitié* (half & half cheese fondue), a glass of white wine to go with to warm up a bit.
*Fondue moitié-moitié is made of equal amounts of Gruyère AOC cheese and Fribourg Vacherin AOC cheese.
For my whole album please click here.
So that’s all the highlights of this getaway weekend, until next time.
Other links or interesting activities in the region:
- Tourist information about Fribourg region
- Les Fromagers de Suisse, you can find recipes using Swiss cheese (in French)
- Charmey: information about having fondue between the sky and earth, available all Saturday evenings from June to September
- Old Village Landeron, Summer markets selling fresh local produce: Year 2009, 19 Aug, 0900-1700
- Charmey Adventures SKYWALK
- Tents on the trees
First left flag is Basel-Landschaft (Basel-Suburb). the canton where I currently live; right flag is Basel-Stadt (Basel-City)
China celebrates National Day on 1st July;
US celebrates Independence Day on 4th July;
France celebrates Bastille Day on 14th July;
And here it comes, SWISS NATIONAL DAY celebrates on 1st August !!!
For most people, August 1st means bonfires and fireworks and barbecues in the garden or brunch on the farm.
I was in Laufen a few days ago, it’s one of the best preserved villages in Basel-Land. It was very atmospheric to see the flags hanging in the High Street. Surprising cars are still allowed in this little street. That day I had some great discoveries and the highlight was that I found a big kitchen gadget shop and have ordered a Romertopf Chicken Roaster.
Tonight we had Chargrilled Swiss Simmentaler Entrecôte steak which we bought directly from a farmhouse in the Alsace region in France as our pre-celebration. Simply grill three and half minutes on each side for medium done, so juicy and tender. It’s a very satisfying feeling to know where your meat comes from and that the animals are guaranteed not genetically modified and no hormones injection given.
To this end, I wish you all a Happy and Relaxing day !!!
Following my Tuscany Part 1: I am afraid I am not writing in a chronological order. This was actually our last evening in Tuscany. Upon our arrival, I have written to Peter & Ann to see if they could offer me a cooking class but this is not something they officially or normally would offer. Peter was actually a chef when he was in Basel. In fact what I was hoping was not a formal cooking class but a casual learn and dine together evening.
After discussing, we had agreed to cook something that I can also repeat when I return to Switzerland.
Weather was rather hot already for early July, we ate outside and Peter told me because of the hot weather, they do not serve dishes immediately but at room temperature.
That evening we had:
- Zucchini blossoms fritta
- Baked zucchini blossoms (continue to read for recipe)
- Zucchini carpaccio (stay tune for recipe)
- Creamy stracchino cheese with sausage crostini (posted)
- Baccalà with tomato & capers sauce (Baccalà alla Vesuviana) (posted)
- Tipsy white peaches with gelato
It was a very special evening to us, so glad that Peter and Ann shared so much their cooking tips to me. I am afraid I cannot reveal everything here in one single post. I will reveal the recipes when I cook them shortly in the future.
Tonight, I have made Baked zucchini blossoms & zucchini. I am actually going to grow some zucchini myself in our vegetable garden, bought some seeds but have to wait until next year to plant them. Nevertheless, my neighbour is very generous and let me pick her zucchini flowers and zucchini. So I did today, picked in the afternoon kept them in some water so they can stay fresh. Once picked, the zucchini blossoms need to be used as soon as possible.
So tonight with a bit of inspiration, I have a meatlessfree dinner, I have used a bit more olive oil than Peter but surprisingly it was completely fine and did not feel greasy at all, a good quality olive oil does pay off!!! I felt I have transformed a Tuscan dish to Spanish tapas, hahaha!
Baked zucchini blossoms & zucchini
- 10 or more zucchini blossoms, freshly bought or picked from your own garden, keep in some water if not used immediately
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced, about 0.5 cm thick
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese)
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs (paniermehl)
- 2 tbsp ground unblanched almond (blanced is fine too)
- 2 tbsp dried parsley
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- best quality of extra olive oil
- Preheat oven at 200ºC (400ºF)
- Trim the sides of zucchini blossoms and emove the pistils, wash and pat dry them gently.
- Drizzle olive oil onto 2 oven proved ceramic trays.
- Mix the grated Parmigiano, breadcrumbs, minced garlic and parsley together in a bowl.
- Spread the mixture thinly over the zucchini and flowers
- Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over them
- Bake them for about 10 minutes in the middle rack
- When the oil is sizzling and the crust is lightly browned they’re done.
- Remove from oven, rest for a few minutes before serve. Great with some fresh bread & some white wine.
- Serve this with bread for a light meal or as a side dish or one of your party dishes.
- You can use less olive oil if you like. Despite I have used a little more olive oil than Peter, it did not feel greasy at all, I like both versions. The critical thing is to really use the best olive oil you can get.
- Baking this way is a little like shallow frying and the beauty is effortless!!!!
Thanks Peter & Ann for the lovely evening, hope to see you soon again!
For Tuscany Part 1 : Garfagnana & Tuscan risotto recipe, click here.
Portebello Road with London Cab in shocking pink ad
A few weeks ago I was in Notting Hill, the weather was much better than the weather forecast which allowed me to have a few good hours in the afternoon exploring the shops along Portebello Road. My main purpose was to visit MELT, a Chocolate Boutique in Westbourne Grove, I will write this in a separate post.
Quoted from Wikipedia: “Notting Hill has a contemporary reputation as an affluent and fashionable area; known for attractive terraces of large Victorian townhouses, and high-class shopping and restaurants (particularly around Westbourne Grove and Clarendon Cross)”.
It was not that crowded that day as that day was a weekday. It would be nice if I could go during weekend to visit the famous flea market but then I would not be able to take these nice photos. Nevertheless, towards the end, there are still numerous street stalls selling clothes, fruits & vegetables and flowers. Here some of my top favorite pictures to share with you. For my full album, please follow this link to iFoto.
Can’t stop looking, isn’t it?
Interesting metal plates
Antique shops (above & below), I have to revisit for more treasure hunt.
Pretty cupcakes from Hummingbird bakery, you can get nice cupcakes in UK too!
The Flowered Corner, isn’t this outdoor florist pretty and cool?
Pizzeria with very creative window dressing, look at the orange car inside!!!
Florist in Westbourne Grove, I was attracted by the two lovely dogs playing with each other.
Stay tune for my coming post on Chocoholic Part 3: Melt…. Chocolate Boutique in Ledbury Road
Some time ago I have posted about the challenging & interesting hike we did, at least challenging for us girls, that was our Day 1. After hiking for 4 hours, I got tired legs the following day and luckily the activities for Day 2 was not difficult, the program was to go up to Aiguille du Midi 3842m. Since we were going above 3500m, we had to walk slowly to avoid altitude sickness.
To start we took the Aiguille du Midi cable car which leaves from the centre of Chamonix. It is a journey of two stages. The first brings visitors to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2300m). The second stage traverses Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North Face.
2nd stage traverses Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North Face
That day we saw many groups of climbers on their way this face towards the summit of the Aiguille.
From the top station (3842m) the view of the Alps is magnificent. The top station has several terraces where visitors can take in the spectacular views of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. On a clear day it is possible to see the Matterhorn, Monta Rosa and the Grand Combin.
An elevator inside the rock rises the final 42m to the top terrace at 3842m. This is the closest you can get to the Mont Blanc without climbing!
For more pictures, please click here.
This was where we stayed on the upper floor in a farmhouse in Pescia with our own pretty walkway filled with the frangrance from the Oleander.
Tuscany has been on my wishlist years ago since I watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Last week I finally got a chance to spend a week there. A week stay is actually too short to see everything. Tuscany is so big that it is divided into 5 regions: North, East, South, West and Central. This time we stayed in a very pretty farmhouse in Pescia, Northern Tuscany. We only managed exploring our nearby surroundings, Western Tuscany (Pisa) and just touched on Chianti (Central Tuscany).
To get there, we drove down there from Switzerland in less than 7 hours. The only thing we have to pay attention is that the traffic through the San Gottardo tunnel can be so busy that you can be stuck in the traffic for hours so that morning we left home pretty early and arrived Pescia at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I am grateful that I was recommended by my friend Carmen to this farmhouse: Agriturismo a Pescia – Azienda Agricola Marzalla and saved a lot time to look further. Another big advantage is that Peter and Ann who are responsible to take care of this place, they can speak multiple languages and English of course. Through this trip I have learnt a lot from them, not just about the surroundings but also a lot of cooking and gardening tips. Peter used to be a chef in Switzerland, once we started talking about food and cooking, we could not stop.
On our first day we did not do much apart from settling ourselves comfortably in the apartment, unpacking and had a very nice Tuscan dinner just nearby. Unfortunately I was too tired that day and forgot to take my camera with me, so you have to use some imagination here I am afraid.
- Complimentary salad which is a typical Tuscan bread salad with tomatoes, tuna and onion. The typical Tuscan bread is unsalted, it’s not commonly eaten at breakfast,taste very plain but more so used in their cooking such as salads or soups.
- Tuscan antipasti (cold meat & crostini)
- 1°secondi: zucchini flowers tagliolini
- 2° secondi: smoked carpaccio with wild porcini mushrooms (freshly picked) and parmesan cheese.
We were then so full that we were not able to have any desserts. The restaurant’s owner was very friendly and offered us a limoncello as digestivo. Here in most restaurants, they always cook what are available that season and in the surrounding. You do not need to go a very fancy restaurant to have good food. The best is to ask the locals there for recommendations.
We had a relaxing scenic drive to mountainous Garfagnana, it was said this part of Tuscany is the least explored and it is very true as we did not see crowds of tourists. The weather was hotter day after day, we had to have gelato every day to cool down a little.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Ponte del Diavolo at Bagni di Lucca
On our way, we passed by some mobile farmers selling and of course we have to stop and have a look. We bought some Tuscan tomatoes and local honey. Later we all thought that the tomatoes we bought that day were the most tasty.
I have taken Jamie’s Italy cookbook with me, at first I thought would it be rather silly to take a whole hardback with me. Peter asked me just to take along with me. And I can tell you that I am so thankful that I have taken this with me, I understand so much more about Tuscan cooking.
As usual I could never follow the recipes totally, I was inspired and adapted one of his risotto recipes and created our dinner that evening. Thanks to Peter & Ann of letting us to pick their garden herbs, it made my Tuscan cooking experience more real. We had tomato mozzarrella as starter and then risotto as our main course.
Risotto with Italian sausage, Pecorino cheese & Thyme
- 2 fresh Italian Pork sausages, cut into small pieces and discard the skin
- 12 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
- 1 Tuscan tomato, cut into small pieces
- 2 cloves garlic. finely chopped
- 3 stalks celery, discard leaves, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 spring onions, cut into small pieces (separate the green and white/ purple parts)
- 1 small piece of pecorino cheese, using your fingers make into crumbles
- Parmesan cheese, for grating (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Pandano which is very similar but not exactly considered to be parmesan)
- 2 small glasses of white wine
- 2 tbsp freshly picked thyme
- chicken stock (dissolve a cube of bouillion in a litre of water)
- 1 cup risotto ( I used Carnaroli risotto which has a high starch content and makes the creamiest risotto; it is often preferred by chefs as the starchy centre stays chewily firm in spite of absorbing plenty of liquid.)
- Heat up a large pan, cook the sausages and set aside.
- Keep the fat coming out from the sausages, add in the garlic, celery and onion. Stir fry for a few minutes at medium high heat or until the onion and celery look transparent.
- Pour in a small glass of white wine and let it bubble and evaporates. Then add in the risotto and stir until throughoutly mixed. I personally like wine a lot of I added a 2nd glass of wine to it and let it continue to bubble.
- Now as like normal risotto cooking, gradually add in the stock and keep stirring from time to time.
- When the risotto is about 75% cooked, add in the tomatoes and stir to mix.
- Add more stock where necessary, in the final stage, add in the sausages, spring onion (white/ purple parts) and lastly the pecorino cheese.
- Adjust to your cooking time according to your personal taste if you like al dente or more cooked.
- Sprinkle the thyme and green parts of the spring onion,stir to mix.
- Serve immediately with grated parmesan cheese.
My thoughts on this Tuscan risotto:
- We felt the pecorino cheese is rather too strong for us when eating alone or on bread, by adding to the risotto, it makes the risotto more creamy and we are surprised that it did not few cheesey at all.
- Normally you may not add spring onion to risotto but Peter told us that you can be as creative as you can imagine. With the rarely found purple spring onion, how can I resist : )
- Also adding celery on top to the onion in the risotto which learnt from the cookbook is a must-try, it adds more flavor and texture to the risotto, I will surely adapt this to my future risottos.
This Christmas, we are staying in a bungalow in the stress-free island, Texel (Dutch Frisian Island), North of Holland. To get to Texel, we took the ferry from Den Helder with our car and with seagulls flying alongside the ferry in the air. The Teso ferry brings you to Texel in just 20 minutes.
Today, we had a long stroll along the beach near post 28 near De Cocksdorp), it was very relaxing walking along the shore, the wind blows away all your worries behind.
Lighthouse near De Cocksdorp (North of Texel)
Sand dunes and Beach
2 lovely Terriers playing at the beach: Jack Russell Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier
What will this be like after 100 years?
Beach café: Café restaurant de Toren
The perfect end to a long walk on the beach: relaxing with a hot chocolate and a bite to eat at a welcoming beach café
Hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream & typical Dutch snacks: Frikandel & bitterballen
Bread with Croquette (Broodje Kroket)
Dear friends and readers
Wish you all and your family a Merry Christmas, and a Happy, Healthy New Year!
Warm wishes from Texel (Sheep Island) in Holland!
Click below for some highlights of our stay:
- To the French, the Dordogne is a river. To the British, it covers a vast area roughly equivalent to what the French call Périgord. Dordogne is also a department which consists of Périgord Blanc (White) , Périgord Noir (Black), Périgord Green and Périgord Purple.
- Sarlat-La-Canéda or simply Sarlat is the capital of Périgord Noir.
- Sarlat is a medieval town and is one of the towns that most represents the 14th century of France. It is in France’s Tentative List for future nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town centre is so pretty and full of well preserved medieval architecture.
- Agriculture has long been of importance in the Dordogne area around Sarlat. It mainly produces corn, hay, walnuts, walnut oil, violet garlic, cheeses, wine, cèpes (a sort of wild mushrooms), truffles and foie gras.
- Foie gras: There are several large foie gras factories as well as a number of small producers of geese and ducks in the region that make foie gras and other cherished products (confits, pâté, etc.) from them.
- Dordorgne attracts many visitors in the summer especially from Northern Europe (e.g. the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, etc.)
It was a very pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow lanes of this archetypal medieval town, with its vielle ville of honey-coloured stone buildings, We were lucky that the day of our visit fell on the Sunday Market.
Kittie kittie, waiting for your dinner???