Sunday, May 03, 2015

A day at the Westerdam

Hours before the Westerdam, Holland America Line cruise liner, disembarked on it first 2015 cruise for Alaska, social media experts and travel writers had the opportunity to tour the ship, sip cocktails and enjoy a luncheon, on May 2nd.

We embarked around 10: 15 AM. Welcoming and cheerful staff escorted us to the Queen’s Lounge where green and purples cocktails arrived very soon with mixed nuts and pieces of cheese. The president made a warm introduction and then the King's Blues band sang songs spreading joy and smiles. Before leaving, we took a bite of the celebratory cake wishing “a happy and well-traveled” season.

The cake

Then the exploration on the boat started. We visited the Neptune staterooms on the 7th floor. Those are the “first class” cabins: spacious and luxurious come together with a private balcony to enjoy the ocean view and plenty of perks –including a tray filled with chocolates and access to the Neptune lounge, a concierge type of lounge for the demanding and privileged few.

Lunch was served at the Vista Dining Room, one of the largest restaurants on the ship. The appetizer was tuna and salmon tartare, followed by a sun-dried tomato gazpacho and then the selection of three: salmon, filet or ravioli. A light Chardonnay and a well-balanced Merlot were the wines options from the Santa Carolina Cellar Selection of Chile.

We went one touring the ship after lunch, starting with  the spa that offers numerous treatments including an exclusive package for the thermal suite with the heated ceramic lounges and the hydropool with the mineralizing bubbling water (at an additional fee). The gym was fantastic surrounded by windows: what a great way to exercise while looking at the deep-blue ocean!

The indoors pool

Fellow writers relaxing at the heated ceramic lounges

We briefly stopped at the children’s activity center, the Culinary Art Center and the library, all interesting locations to spend time while on board.

It seems that cruising to Alaska in the summer is rather tempting and I may soon give in and be on Westerdam for the real experience. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to make éclairs and Saint-Honorés

Making éclairs may be a dream for some but more of a complicated task for others. Willing initially to take a class on how to make Saint-Honoré, the grandiose French dessert dedicated to the Saint with the same name who is the patron of bakers, I signed up for the éclairs and Saint-Honoré cooking class at the Paris Eastside School.

After being welcomed by our instructor and school owner Muriel, we put on our aprons; Muriel didn’t delay the three-hour process of pâte à choux –puffs in English -and éclair making. First is the dough of course, which can be tricky. Depending on the humidity, flour responds in different ways.

Tip 1: Stick to the basic, all-purpose flour and don’t blend leftovers from one brand or type of flour with another. You don’t know what results you will get and this is not good news.

To make the dough, put the butter, the sugar, the salt and the water in a pan, melt them together and put them to boil. When you actually see the rolling broil, dump the flour -set aside in a bowl- and combine them together. Make sure that there are no lumps of flour leftover and then put the entire mix back to the saucepan to dry it out for less than a minute. Then add the eggs, one by one, by stirring them with a wooden spoon. OK, I said, so far so good.

Tip 2: Buy good butter.  Don’t be too stingy as good quality butter makes a difference

Tip 3: Don’t over stir the eggs because the mix becomes too sticky and you don’t want that.

Tip 4: If you think that you need more consistency in the mix, you add one additional egg. However, you don’t want to overdo it with the eggs as the dough may become too egg-y.

Then you put the dough in a pastry bag with a 16mm tip and pipe it on a sheet of parchment paper; for the puffs, you create rounds, the éclair should be 1.5 inches  long (see the photo to get an idea). This is much trickier than you think. Make sure you leave some space between them as they will rise after baking and you don’t want to touch each other. Let them bake for 20 minutes in the oven.

The pastry cream or crème pâtissière is another creative thus challenging process but it is tends to be a good exercise for your arms.

You put the milk, sugar and salt with the flavor you want –vanilla in our case- together to boil.

In another bowl put the egg yolks mixed with equal parts of flour and corn starch; whisk well together without leaving any lumps out, then pour the boiling milk over the mix. Put the mix back to the saucepan and whisk well for some time until it thickens (for the chocolate éclair you also add the grated chocolate at this stage). Then let mix to cool.

Once the puffs and the éclairs are cooled off as well as the pastry cream, you literary inject the pastry cream in each of them with the tip of the pastry bag.

Tip 5: To make éclairs the French way, you have to match the filling (the pastry cream) with the topping –so for chocolate éclairs you need a chocolate ganache or chocolate icing topping and not something else.

For the Saint-Honoré you follow the same process really. You need three puffs (each has caramel on top) added together on a pastry puff base, and then you add whipped cream. The photo on top witnesses the grandiose element of the dessert. It is for the Saint-Honoré after all. It is a big dessert that obviously needs to be shared with others.

For the base of Saint-Honoré: Place circles of puff pastry between two sheets of parchment paper, weight with another cookie pan and cook for 20 minutes.

The éclairs and the puffs ended up being soft, fresh and tasty - wonderful for a Saturday lunch that came together with a glass of champagne. I liked both the vanilla cream filled puffs and the chocolate éclairs, each for different reasons. The chocolate has a bold character, the vanilla is softer.

Tip 6. The puff is also used to make profiteroles, beignets and gougère among others. So you really learn something useful that is also versatile.

I am glad that I experimented with French pastry making. Now time to practice at home.  

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Kale and Maple Water Juice

Kale is one of the ubiquitous leafy greens, the darling of food bloggers, culinary food magazines and top chefs. It is claimed to be loaded with vitamins A, C and K and with minerals like iron, potassium and phosphorus.

I started making my kale juice years ago, a hot and humid summer in New York. I just bought some bunches, added cold mineral water, enhanced with almond butter and added drops of maple syrup to bounce off the minor bitter flavor.

But as I recently discovered the maple water from Canada, I gave my kale juice a makeover. I replaced the water with maple water and the entire kale juice got a “taste lift”. 

Here is a very simple recipe for you to enjoy.

Tip: Serve it in a flute and let your friends, colleagues or guests to guess what it is or in a retro Coca Cola glass.

You need:

2 cups of Kale
1 cup of Maple Water
1 tbsp. cashew butter

Put all ingredients into a blender and mix them until liquefied and smooth. You don’t need to add maple syrup because the maple water has approximately 4g of sugar per serving. You can always play around and give the recipe a twist by adding more maple water to make it lighter or more kale for a greener color.

For more information where to buy maple water, click here:

For information about maple syrup, read here:

Friday, February 20, 2015

My first two weeks on Paleo diet

The Paleo diet seems easy. Just take out of your pantry -and plate all foods- that everybody likes; those include cookies, muffins, donuts, pizzas, pastries, sandwiches, pad Thai, sushi and brownies. Then add also beans, lentils and chickpeas, potato chips, Japanese rice snacks, wasabi peas, breakfast cereals and your favorite cheeses and you are all set. Sorry I forgot peanuts and peanut butter. You can pretty much eat everything else.

Right. I am not trying to be funny. The Paleo diet consists of foods that are ancestors ate, aka the cavemen. Wild meat and wild poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts. Some oils. Some drinks. So this is what you should eat if you really want to try this out. Grains and legumes are out all together with potatoes and dairy. And rice.
As I don’t like legumes really and most of the flour-based baked goods mentioned above, it wasn’t difficult to start my experiment which I want it to last for at least a month.

A few of the notable days: 

Day 2. I was in Portland for the Future of Food Conference. This was pretty cool but for lunch I realized that paleo may not be included in the future of food. The buffet lunch provided four different gluten free salads with pasta which I couldn’t eat as they are still grains; tufurku meat that I am not allowed to eat as it is made from soy; some tuna sandwiches and cheese omelette. So I could only eat the green salad and kimchi. But there were many food exhibitors at the Marketplace so I thought I could munch my paleo diet around. I had some luck. I enjoyed the wild salmon at one of the stands; the Kuli Kuli bars made with nuts and moringa; almonds and seeds and few nut butters. But I passed on burritos, cheese, bean salads, hummus, peanut butter sandwiches and all the gluten free items available from pasta to cookies. I realized that paleo is a tough choice even at such a unique conference….

Day 5. It was interesting as it was the “cheat” day starting with plain Greek yogurt mixed with flax seeds and fruits. Lunch was a big green salad with salmon and for snacks the newly discovered Honey Mama’s fudge nectar made with coconut oil, organic cocoa and almonds. Dinner was probably a blend of nuts and some greens paired with a glass of Syrah…

Day 8. I was working out the entire morning and early afternoon so I had the Kuli Kuli paleo-friendly energy bars with me and some Garden Herb Crackers from the two Moms in the Raw, both great for snacking. Of course I brought an apple as well so not a problem.

Day 10. It is almost impossible to eat out without asking for “hold  this” and “hold that”. I had lunch at the Pop Pop Thai Street restaurant and I had to try their amazing grilled chicken but  I had to ask them not to bring me the rice. The waiter looked at me in a strange way but I insisted. 

Day 11. Invited at an evening reception, I could only eat meat or fish. I had to decline all Italian hors-d’oeuvres - pasta, rice, bread, cheese and to get rid of the bread from the mini sandwiches with pulled pork. I also asked for rice-free sushi. Japanese will never forgive me!


1.       1. It is easy to eat paleo at home with minimal preparation. Prepare a salad and add some protein –meat, fish or eggs. Experts recommend grass-fed meat, wild fish and antibiotics-free chickens and eggs. I can’t say that I always fulfill this parameter but overall I don’t buy the cheapest I find in the super market aisles. I also eat only seasonal vegetables and fruits.
2.       2. If you like nuts, you will love your snacks.  Raw almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazilian nuts together with raw seeds are my daily snacks which are healthier than potato chips but are very high in calories.
3.       3. The paleo experts are not very much into calories and strict portions so this affected me because I didn’t keep an eye on the portions of the nuts I had, probably more than I should. 
4.       4. I had decent amounts of dark chocolate which I like.
5.       5. I cheated a few times for breakfast. I don’t like eggs early in the morning so I alternate the grain free granola or the nut butter on fruits with some plain Greek yogurt and kefir. The moderate paleo experts allow that because Greek yogurt and kefir have little lactose. 
6.       6. I kept drinking wine.
7.       7. It is tempting to cheat when you cook for others. I made a nice cheese soufflé and I was so close to try it out but I didn’t. 
8.       8. I did not bake anything nor I used coconut flour or oil. Coconut may not be my preferred ingredient. I definitely didn’t like the coconut yogurt I bought and I usually use olive oil for my cooking needs. However, the So Delicious Coconut Milk Cherry Amaretto Non Dairy Dessert is really … delicious. I had it only once during the first two weeks.

 Paleo-friendly on-the-go snacks

Kuli Kuli –energy bars made with the moringa plant and fruits 

(generously offered by the food producer)

Two Moms in the Raw Garden Herb Crackers (generously offered by the food producer)

Betsy’s Best Whole Food Rounds – paleo friendly bars -purchased at Whole Foods

Honey Mama’s Nectar Fudge -purchased at Whole Foods

The discovery of the week:
Cappello’s Grain and Gluten Free Lasagna Sheets (made with almond flour) - purchased at Whole Foods

Terribly missing: Sriracha flavored chips. I don’t care if they are made with real potatoes, brown rice, corn, beans or chips. I like them all. Can I only have a bag? 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eating at Pop Pop

Pop Pop Thai Street Food is a hidden, rather small Thai restaurant in Seattle's north side (also known as Aurora). Not visible from the main street but easy to find, it is located in a strip mall between a T-mobile store and across an LA Fitness gym. 

As I had done my research before going and wasn't too hungry, I knew that I would get the number 12 on the menu. This was the "grilled chicken" that came with red chili sauce and a brown sauce which I think was made with fish sauce, soy, lime, scallions, and other spices. The chicken was grilled over charcoal in its skin and was marinated in coconut milk and lemongrass, spices and garlic which gave the caramelized flavor. I dare to say that this grilled chicken was probably the best chicken in my entire tasting life as it tasted almost like pork, was juicy and paired handsomely with both  sauces. I held the rice that comes as a side because I wanted to have it plain and unspoiled from grains. I only had the iced Thai coffee, a perfect blend of coffee, milk and sugar that couldn't get enough of.

I will definitely go back to try other dishes, noodles, pad thai and the papaya salad. For sure. Very soon. 

Pop Pop Thai Street Food
13242 Aurora Avenue North #104, Seattle, WA 98133

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Bitter Lunch

Bitter is an interesting, thus unexplored taste but author Jennifer McLagan had persistence, a keen interest and enthusiasm to write a book about it. In a lunch presentation at Book Larder, she explained why she likes bitter taste, what the most common bitter items and ingredients are and how we can add them in our daily cooking and eating habits. 

All guests experienced a mini-lunch comprised of  a Belgian endive and radicchio salad with anchovy dressing, a Brussels sprouts with chickpeas dish and an orange and oil olive pound cake as a dessert. I found the salad bitter enough but pleasant all the same; the Brussels sprouts less bitter and blending nicely with the chickpeas; the cake was not bitter really but I couldn't taste the sugar either. 

I appreciate and like a lot the bitterness in a country that everything has more than enough sugar -natural and artificial. I am glad to find out McLagan's insights and tips on cooking with bitter vegetables and ingredients.

Yes, you guessed it right, I am staring with Negroni, the quintessential bitter cocktail. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

My favorite foods and destinations of 2014

As the new year has nicely entered our life, I reiterate my annual tradition of listing my favorite items of the previous year -all of them related to food. This year's favorites include dishes, specialty foods and destinations that were bold, influential and had an impact in my personal food world.

My first time at the largest food trade show in the world, SIAL was impressive, overwhelming and amazing. I documented my experience through this post on the Huff Po which says everything:

Doing tapas at Calle del Laurel, Logroño’s famous tapas street
Mini fish bites, grilled mushrooms and cheese and ham tiny sandwiches, Logroño's street food has everything. Highly recommended when you visit this part of Spain. Pair it with a glass of Rioja wine and you are all set while you do your tapas pilgrimage.

Cyclades islands, Greece
After a few years of absence, I returned to Syros and Paros, two wonderful Cyclades islands. Except for their Mediterranean beauty, the islands are known for their traditional local food of notable cheeses, capers, fava dishes, sweet delights and local wine varieties among others. Try an “envelope” of San-Mixali cheese with grape syrup and sesame on top or a fennel cheese pie with yogurt.

Savory energy bars
Strong & Kind from the well-known for bars brand Kind, it is a tasty surprise for those who like savory and need a break from the chocolate peanut-y bars. I love the Thai Sweet Chili Almond Protein bar, a nice combination of sweet and spicy and the Jalapeno bar for a more grown up taste.

The Wild Hibiscus Flower Pyramid Salt Flakes
This gourmet finishing salt is made from a blend of hibiscus flowers and delicate Australian pyramid salt. Great taste and flavor that pair well with almost any food, from salads and soup to your margarita cocktail.

The Angel’s Share 2009 Petit Syrah and Albariño Burgáns, 2013 Rias Baixas are my top two wines of the year for their sophistication, balance and freshness. For the sparking effect, try the Marqués de la Concordia Reserva de la Familia 2010 Brut Millésime Rosé Wine, a limited edition Cava.  

The new look from Terra Chips. Those colorful pieces of happiness are sweet and salty and pair nicely with your favorite beer. You can also eat them just plain out of the bag instead of dinner.

Sexy Pop popcorn. Light, low in calories and loaded with antioxidants, this popcorn will be in my snack pantry for a long time. I love the cheddar flavor but also the banana for a unique taste.

The RAP protein gummies  
They may have a texture that is different and not always likable, but those gummies have plenty of protein to satisfy you during the day or before the gym. My favorite is the orange citrus.

The Kettle Brand Thick+Bold Dill Pickle Potato Chips are free from gluten and trans fats. Crunchy, thick and bold, they do have everything, including many calories but they are so delicious! 

The Crisp melon cutter. Melon and cantaloupe are my favorite fruits for the summer so the Crisp knife is a must-have. The knife is extra long, has a sturdy blade and provide an easy slicing with its ergonomic handle. It also comes with a detachable seed removal scoop which gives this knife an edge.  Get it here: