Monday, January 30, 2012

Rösti, a Valais specialty

So i just came back from a mini vacation in the Valais canton in Switzerland. I spent three blissful days skiing and hanging out at the thermal baths in Leukerbad, a gorgeous alpine village that looks exactly like a Swiss mountain village should look. More about that in my next post, which will be all about Leukerbad.

I'm working the closing shift at the paper tonight, so I don't have much time to dwell on my vacation right now. Still, I want to give you a little taste of the cuisine in Valais. Rösti is one of their signature dishes, something that is very similar to hash brow potatoes, but is served for lunch or dinner with many different toppings that range from pancetta to mushrooms and from ham to tomatoes. My favorite rendition is a simple one: potatoes, ham, fried egg and a little cheese. Heaven on a plate, I tell you.

Makes 1:

1/2 pound of potatoes, boiled in their skins the day before

2 to 3 tablespoons of butter

1/2 medium onion

salt to taste

Raclette (or other salty) cheese

Sliced ham

1 fried egg
Peel the cooked potatoes and grate them through a coarse grater. Slice the onions into thin wedges.

Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and add the onions and cook them until they look glassy and transparent. Add the grated potatoes and the salt and stir through. Fry while stirring them around in the pan for about 3 to 5 minutes. Press together to form a flat cake and fry over medium heat until there is a golden crust on the bottom.

Place a serving platter on the pan and turn the pan upside down, so the Roesti falls on the platter with the crust on top.

Top with grated cheese, ham and fried egg. Stick under the broiler for 30 seconds and serve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Egg salad

As you read this, I'm riding a train to Leukerbad, in the Western side of Switzerland, where I'll spend a couple of days skiing and hanging out at the beautiful thermal baths. In case you are wondering, no, I'm not always on vacation, as one of my friends said the other day. It's just a little weekend getaway, which will make the coldest days of the year easier to bear. I know it may sounds a little crazy to go to the mountains during the chilliest week of them all, but I'd rather be cold ina place where nbeing in cold weather is fun, rather than freezing my ass off by the lake, with the humidity killing me and making me shiver to bone.

Before leaving I didn't bothered going grocery shopping, so I had to get a little creative with my lunches. Egg salad sandwich sounded like a good idea - I hadn't had the stuff since I left the U.S. in April of '10 - so I improvised with what I had in the fridge. It turned out great, exactly what I had in mind: to make it low fat, I used yogurt instead of mayo, added some paprika for flavor and capers and for saltiness.


1 hard boiled egg, minced
1 tablespoon of capers, minced
2 small pickles, minced
2 tablespoons minced onion
Salt and paprika, to taste
3 tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt (or more if you need it)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

London in pictures, day 3

Lately I've become a huge fan of public transportation. Not so much where I live, since Bissone is not exactly very well connected to the rest of the world via public transportation, but when I go elsewhere I'm very happy to abandon my car and use trains, buses and subways. In London, especially, I took advantage of its awesome public transportation system by purchasing an Oyter card, on which I loaded 7 days of unlimited travel for 29 pounds. It may seem a lot, but it really isn't. The Tube rocks and so do duble decker buses, although on my first day I managed to piss off a driver for being impatient. Gotta love that.
After a brief visit to the outside of St. Paul Cathedral (I would have had to shell out 14 pounds to get in... are they insane?!?) I walked across the Millenium Bridge to reach the South bank, where Tate Modern is located. As most museums in London it's free, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. The art inside is the kind of art that one can only describe as kind of crazy, but so cool it deserves a post on its own... so stay tuned for that. 
In the aftenoon I visited another great museum, the British Museum. Again, it was free, and the art there is definitely more conventional, ranging from ancient Egypt's Rosetta Stone to more modern masterpieces from all over the world.

I had some time to kill before dinner so I walked around, stopping in a pub every once in a while to rest and recharge (and drink beer, of course)
At night we took it is. I showed up at the pub where my friend was just in time for the kitchen to be closed, so we ended up cooking at his place. I made pasta, so there was no weird both cubes involved ;-)

The Indie travel Challenge, week 3: "Learning through travel"


Travel is learning. If one travels and manages not to learn anything, I suspect he or she could very well be braindead. I mean, how can you not absorb everything that is new and different around you? Art, language, food, traditions. You name it. One of the most exciting aspects of traveling is meeting different people, who live in ways that are foreign to us for reasons that are part of a history that is not our own.

Week 3 of the Indie Travel Challenge deals with this. Learning and traveling. Except for when i attended summer school to learn English in California (every year from 1992 to 1998) I have never really taken classes while abroad, but that doesn't mean that I haven't learned a lot while traveling. i guess I'm just not much into taking organized classes while I'm on vacation. My bad. I'm sure that if I had taken, let's say, some cooking classes while abroad I would have learned to cook the same recipes I know how to cook now, but without all the trial and error.

One thing, though, I have learned by traveling, and that is appreciating art. When i was in high school Art History was possibily one of my least favorite subjects. Watching works of art printed in a book isn't that exciting and we were never taken to any museums, despite the fact my school was across the street from the church where Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper is. I know, I know. Terrible.
Anyhow, I had to learn to love art as an adult, by browsing art museums on my own, without the aid of an art expert. Sure, I'd probably learn even more if I had someone telling me about focus and composition and the likes, but would I enjoy, and therefore learn, from the experience that much? Probably not.

So alone I go to museums of all kinds and I let the art speak to me. If the art in question doesn't, well, no biggie. Not all art can move us, which is what makes art so interesting. For it to arise my interest, it has to surprise me, amaze me, even shock me. Or, some other times, to make me discovere that even a mirror placed on wall of a museum can surprise us, ^making us realize that us, too, are works of art.

Self portrait, Tate Modern, London.
January 2012

Asian lettuce wraps


Happy Dragon year everyone!

I thought I'd take a little break from posting travel pictures and post a recipe, just to remind myself 8and all of you) that this still is a cooking blog after all. Travels are cool, but unfortunately I don't travel every day. On the other hand, I do tend to cook on a daily basis, especially in the winter, especially when I'm trying to get back in shape after over two months of food and drink orgies.

Since the world is celbrating the Chinese new year, I thought I'd cook one of my favorite Asian recipes, one that I used to eat at PF Cheng's when I lived in Florida. I know, Cheng's isn't exactly a real Chinese joint, but their lettuce wraps rocked and they are light enough and veggie packed enough to satisfy both my weight loss challenge and my healthy habits- eat more veggies! challenge.

So here it is. Maybe not the most adventurous Chinese recipe, but a good, solid one.


1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon siracha
1 tablespoon sweet and sour sauce

To serve:
Lettuce leaves
Bean sprouts
Shredded carrot
Shredded cabbage
Cooked brown rice

Heat a non stick skillet or a wok. Mix soy sauce and next 4 ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken to skillet and stir to crumble. Pour sauce over it and cook for about ten minutes, until chicken is done. If the meat should get dry, add a little more sauce. I added siracha because I love the heat it gives to the dish!

When chicken is done, cover and remove from stove.

Serve with lettuce leaves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

London in pictures, day 2

My second day in London was awesome. Filippo had the day off, so we got to hang out together all day, which is always awesome. We dedicated the afternoon to the exploation of one of my favorite neighborhoods in London: Notting Hill. I hated the movie, but absolutely love the streets and stores and market stalls you find there. It made me wish I could ship a crate of furniture, books and knick knacks back to Switzerland, but since I couldn't I had to restrain my self and refrain from buying everything I saw.

It was hard. It was very hard.
 I mean, how can you walk into Alice's and not buy an old wooden coffee table you absolutely have no room for or a trunk that will only set you back 300 dollars or so? I didn't actually buy any of the above, but had I been there by car I would have. So, good thing I was traveling by train, I guess.
 Only a few doors down Portobello road I found another store that me want to move to London instantly. It's called Books for cooks and, you've guessed, only sells cookbooks. Again, I had to refrain from buying everything in there and my heart ached for all my wonderful cookbooks I've left behind in Florida. I know I'd never have the time to use of all them, but it's a collection. It exists purely for the purpose of pleasing me, no matter how useless and bulky a collection it may seem. And, as collections go, actually, it's far more useful than others. Stamps, for instance. Or coins.
I manged to leave the store with only one purchase, a British food book called, well, British Food, which I selected both because I thought it would have been dumb to by an Italian cookbook in London and because it was fairly small. I could have (and would have) spent the whole afternoon there, but Filippo was fidgeting, so I figured that a half hour was enough for him. The poor guy was already putting up with my obsession to find a grey coat (which I didn't find, by the way), so I decided to go easy on him with the cookbook shopping.
 We then kept walking around Portobello road, which is really as charming as in the movies, full of little quirky details and even quirkier little stores.
 On the way back we stopped in a store that sold funky t-shirts and, I was hoping, grey coats. Although I didn't fiond the damn coat, I made friends with the store cat, who hang out by the cash register, sleeping on piles of t-shirts and being overall one of the friendliest cats ever.
For dinner we decided to stay home since we kind of already had a bad lunch experience invoving a pub, a microwaved burger and a Brooke Shields sighting. Filippo asked me to make risotto and I obliged. A tiny catch: they were out of Knorr beef broth cubes, so I had to use Oxo's version. I was terrified. I mean, look at the freakin' box, for crying out loud. The broth turned out to be extremly dark and not too flavorful, but overall the ristto was good, if maybe a little off colorwise.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

London in pictures, day 1

Welcome to London! First off, London has always been one of my favorite cities in the world. When I was 5 my dad used to work there, so my mom and I would go there at least once a month. And I loved it already. 25 years later, I still love it. Not to mention that now I can also enjoy the beer... so what's not lo like?
Anyway, I started off my exploration in Trafalgar Square. The weather was chilly but sunny, so it was really pleasant walking around, looking at Admiral Nelson, on top of his column, staring into the distance. It was also a Tuesday morning, so the city wasn't packed with other tourists, which is always nice. Gives you the feeling that you have more space to move and take pictures and take in the views without feeling rushed.

On my way to Covent Garden I couldn't resist taking this picture of two quintessential icons: the London tube sign and the red, British phone booths. 

Coven Garden itself is kind of a huge tourist trap, with expensive stores and even more expensive food. But it's worth checking out, if only to take a couple of pictures. But then, of course, is better to go shopping and dining elsewhere.

 Before lunch I also had to take one of my infamous self-shots in front of the National Gallery. Some guy asked me if I wanted my picture taken the proper way, and I let him, but then deleted the pic he took and kept my crappy one. It's a tradition, what can I say?
 I made sure to be in Chinatown around lunch time. I browsed the streets, taking in the sweet and spicy fragrance of Asian food wafting through the air, then decided to eat at a wonderfully depressing Vietnamese restaurant that was called, this is truly awesome, "Vietnamese Restaurant". Sheer genius, right? And the pho!! Oh, the pho was divine. No other words to describe it. The broth had an intensity and a depth of flavor you don't encounter everywhere. That and a pint of beer sent me to lunch heaven.
 I then made the HUGE mistake of walking down Oxford Street. I had been so good at not buying stuff while I was in Paris, but all of the sudden I turned into a crazed shopping Godzilla. I kid you not. Between Primark, Urban Outfitters and Pull&Bear I bought tons of clothes I didn't need. The good thing is, I now own really cool clothes nobody else is wearing around here. Totally worth it, if you ask me. So after all that walking and shopping I had to stop at a pub and drink a couple of pints to regain my strength. I love pubs and I love beer, so I really enjoyed my down time, waiting for my friend Filippo to be done with work so we could go out to dinner.
I met him at the Angel tube station and we walked to a Turkish restaurant nearby, called "Cappadocia". As we often do when we are together we ordered too much food. An appetizer sample platter that featured everything from hummus to eggplant dip, and then a main course each —chicken in sauce for him and spicy Turkish sausage for him. Delicious. The only drawback was that it was a little bit difficult to digest, so we ended up having weird dreams all night. Oh well. A little price to pay, I say. 

Stay tuned!
More London pictures are coming in the next few days!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Healthy habits: Eat more veggies! Vegetable frittata

Since apparently I didn't have enough stuff to do with my other challenge, the Indie travel challenge, I decided to embark in a healthy eating challenge as well. "Cooking Light's 12 healthy habits" seemed like a good option, since it isn't too demanding but at the same time it does push you toward a better way of eating and living.

January's challenge (I know, I'm a bit late, aren't I?) is to eat more vegetables, specifically to "Add 3 more servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet each day". Since I'm intolerant to most raw fruit and I don't really care for cooked fruit, I have decided to add vegetables to my daily diet and call it a day. It isn't too much of a challenge for me, as I really like veggies anyways, but I have decided to concentrate on some good vegeterian recipes that I can take to the office with me and eat for lunch.

Today I brought a nice frittata packed with tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and fresh herbs. Easy to make, delicious to eat and, most of all, nice and light, so I didn't feel that after-lunch fatigue overcoming me.


2 eggs
1 teaspoon butter
1 small zucchini, cubed
A few cherry tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper

Cook vegetables in a small pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a bowl beat eggs, add salt, pepper and thyme. Add vegetables.

Heat butter in a small skillet, pour egg mixture into it and cook, about three minutes per side, or until desired degree of doneness.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Indie Travel Challenge, week 2: "What is an indie traveler?"

So here we are. Week two of the indie travel challenge. This week's prompt is a question I knew would arrive sooner or later, but I was hoping it would arrive later rather than sooner. The question is: what is an indie traveler? And my problem with it is: why do we always feel the need to define everything?

Defining an indie traveler is pretty mucg impossible, in my humble opinion. There are as many types of indie travelers as there are travelers. So who am I to say that I'm indie and someone else is not?

Of course there are those who consider themselves better than most because they go to the most exotic, hard to reach, unknown spots of the world and kind of look down at anyone who would get excited about going to any place where you can get a hot shower and a decent bed. And there are also those who would never leave the beaten path, who would never try whatever food the locals eat (unless they are in Italy or France, that is) and are afraid of getting robbed pretty much everywhere.

Those, of course, are extremes. Then there's a whole bunch of us who are somewhere in between. Who like nice hotels and crowded hostels just the same, who like to explore less traveled by destinations, but won't disdain a touristy museum or monument. We would love to take a whole year off and go travel around the world, but for a number of different reasons -both financial and personal- we just can't do that right now, so we have to travel when we have time off, or suring weekends or even explore our own town on a Saturday afternoon.

Does that make us indie travelers? I think so. Being an indie traveler is more of a state of mind rather than a collection of stamps on your passports. Is that need to go and see what the rest of the world is like, no matter if the rest of the world is 10 or 1000 miles away.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paris in pictures, day 3

My third, and last, day in Paris was packed with walking and sightseeing. The weather was fairly nice and I decided to walk from the Latin Quarter to the Eiffel Tower. Normally it's a 5 kilometer walk, but I kind of zigzaged around, making it almost a 9 kilometer affair. Not that I'm complaining. I had to burn off some of the calories I had ingested the previous day, after all.
 What I love the best about wandering around big cities, is that you never know what awesome little (or big) view awaits for you around the corner. I literally took hundreds of pictures of random windows and doors, which are my latest obsession. Don't ask why. It's something I've devolped last summer in Greece and I just can't stop.
 I walked and walked and walked trying to avoid the largest streets and concetrating on the little allways and courts.
 ...and then, when I started to feel hungry, I dove into a little brasserie by the Musèe d'Orsay and ordered one of my favorite dishes: entrecôte with french fries. As it always is, it was delicious and very satisfying. It would have probably been even better with a glass of red wine, but I was so freaking thirsty, only beer sounded good.
 After lunch I finally reached my destination, where I took this self-portrait. One thing about traveling alone is that you can't count on someone taking pictures of you.
And that same night I was off. I went to the Gare du Nord where I boarded the Eurostar to London. I was very excited, both because I had never been in an underwater train tunnel and because I hadn't been in London since January of 1998. What adventures laid ahead?

If you want to see the whole picture album go here (and no, you don't need to be on Facebook to see it):

Paris in pictures, day 2

My second day in Paris was a wonderful, family-oriented day. Not my family, of course. I spent the day with my friend Virginie's family, celebrating her birthday. It was really great to spend time in their Montmartre apartment, sipping wine and eating homemade food.
 We started off with some salami I brought as a gift. When I bought it in a boulangerie that morning, I was a little perplexed because it felt too hard, but decided to buy two anyway because they were all like that. I figured that showing up empty handed would be far worse than showing up with salami that is a little too hard. I picked an Italian one with black truffles and a smoked one from Corsica. They were both really good and not hard at all. Turns out they were just cold from being near the fridge in the store. I guess I could have figured that out, right? 
Then there were oysters. Many, many, delicious oysters to be eaten with a spash of lemon juice over buttered hazelnut bread. I had never eaten oysters like that before, but I have to say it beats the Tabasco and saltines.
We then had a pork roast with roasted winter vegetables and, after that, we indulged in a trey of cheeses. Hard to tell which one was the best. Wish my stupid camera would have had some battery left to pictures of it, but of course it didn't. Oh well. More to come, people! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Paris in pictures, day 1

So I finally have loaded my pictures on a real computer, so I can actually post them. iPads are fun, but trying to update your blog from one is a pain in the ass.

Here are a few pictures of my first day in Paris.
I woke up after an exceptionally good night of sleep on my Milano to Paris sleeper train. I would have never dreamed a train would be so comfortable, especially since I was not traveling first class.

I had breakfast with my friend Virginie, who was kind enough to pick me up at the station in the morning. Loved the lamps in the cafe' where we drank coffee. Wished I could have some of those at home.

I walked aimlessly through the Latin Quarter, looking at cute little restaurants and taking in the atmosphere.
I visited Notre Dame, because for once in my life I found no line to get in. It was about time since I've been trying for years!
I rode the metro. It's funny how I used to hate taking the metro as a teenager, and now I could ride it all day. Probably because I now live ina place that has no metro at all.
And I made friends with Banti, my friend Annapaola's cat. He's adorable. Now that I left Paris and I'm in London I miss him already!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Indie Travel Challenge, week 1: "Planning for 2012"

So I'm not much of a planner. Nor am I much of a resolutions person, mostly because - let's be honest - I'm horrible at keeping resolutions. Or follow through with my plans, for that matter. There is one exception, of course: travel planning. I absolutely adore travel planning. I buy Lonely Planet guide books on a whim, whenever I see them, even when I'm not planning a trip. I constantly scan the internet for insipration, as if I needed more crazy ideas running through my head. When relatives ask me what I want for Christmas or my birthday, I usually ask for train passes or more guide books or anything, really, that is travel related. It's a sickness, similar to only one other sickness that I have: cookbooks. But that's another story.

Let's focus on the traveling. And the planning. I read about the Indie Travel Challange while I was browsing the web for my upcoming Paris and London trip, and I thought it would be a fun little (errr... not so little actually) way of pushing myself both as a writer and a traveler. Ever since I moved from Florida to Switzerland I have missed writing the travel articles I used to write for the Naples Daily News, so why not taking up travel writing seriously again? After all, is only one of my two dream careers (the other one being a food writer for a large newspaper).

So here's week 1, a week about planning for 2012. After reading Boots'n'all travel resolutions for the upcoming year, I feel pretty inspired, and ready to share my list. Here's a link to their resolutions and the challenge:

  1. Speak French while I'm in paris, even though my French is poor, to say the list
  2. Get lost around the little streets of Bruges, Belgium
  3. Eat perfect, greasy, salty fries from a street vendor in Brusselles
  4. Try a new dish I've never tried before, everywhere I go
  5. Visit all cantons in Switzerland, including the one where I live, which I don't know quite as well as I'd like
  6. Take a German class
  7. Go to Oktoberfest
  8. Buy a ticket to go to Vietnam in January 2013
  9. Swim in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
  10. Blog about my travels more consistently
That's it. Well, I hope you all will follow my adventures... as I travel, eat and drink my way around Europe.

Baked eggs... and a happy new year to everyone!

Happy 2012 everyone! I hope you had a great New Year's Eve and all that. As for me, I was fighting a cold, so it wasn't spectacular, but other than that I can't complain. 2011 was a good year for me. Lots of positive changes came along, and although it wasn't always easy to stay optimisitc and smile, it wasn't too hard either. I've found a job a like and friends I love, traveled to Sweden, Greece, Czech Republic and Germany... so, seriously, what's not to love?
And here I am again, super excited because the day after tomorrow I leave for a nine day vacation in Paris and London. How cool is that? I can't wait.
Of course I hope I'll find plenty of wi-fi connections so I can keep you posted while I'm visiting the cities and eating all that delicious food... but in the mean time, I want to leave you with a recipe I made on New Year's, a simple, no fuss dish that tastes great and is very comforting: baked eggs.

(Adapted from Cooking Light)

Cooking spray
4 (1-ounce) slices French-style country bread, cut into (1/2-inch) cubes
1 thinly sliced onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided
2 tablespoons water
6 large eggs
1/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Lightly coat 6 (8-ounce) ramekins lightly with cooking spray. Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet, and lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until bread is crisp and lightly browned, stirring after 5 minutes.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to pan; cook 10 minutes or until onion is tender. Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in 2 tablespoons water, and cook 5 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Evenly divide onion among prepared ramekins; top with croutons. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper evenly over croutons.

Carefully break 1 egg into each ramekin on top of croutons; drizzle 2 teaspoons milkover each egg. Arrange ramekins in a roasting pan lined with a dish towel (to anchor them in the pan). Pour boiling water halfway up the sides of the ramekins to make a water bath. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until the whites are almost set. They should be slightly underdone as they will continue cooking in the hot dishes when you take them from the oven. Garnish with dill sprigs, if desired.


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