Chocolate con Churros

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A Spanish-American friend in college used to boast about Spain’s famous “Chocolate con Churros”, and how he would dip the delicious deep-fried dough pastry into the thick hot chocolate. Although I have been to Spain multiple times the opportunity to try “Chocolate con Churros” would finally come when I visited Seville. And it was all that my friend said it would be, it was heavenly!

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Our family went to Bar El Comercio, a family run business since 1904, specializing in “Chocolate con Churros” and serving other drinks and snacks. The “Chocolate con Churros” is only available in the morning and mid afternoon when the kettle of oil is sizzling hot and each order of churros is made fresh. Since we did not know how big the servings would be we decided to order 3 portions for 2 adults and 2 children. To our surprise the servings of churros were huge and we could barely finish our delicious snack. The “chocolate” was not what we know as hot chocolate, but instead was a beautifully thick fondue-like creamy chocolate in which to dip the churro pieces in. My mouth waters just thinking about that afternoon.

 

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Some fun history about Bar El Comercio

http://barelcomercio.com/index.htm

For a good article about Churros see Serious Eats:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/04/spanish-churros-con-chocolate.html

 

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Nine Mouth-Watering Reasons to Visit Italy

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Photo courtesy of Clara Petrucelli.

(Top row, left to right)

Penne Rigate all’Arrabiata – Penne in a spicy tomato sauce with crushed red pepper flakes.

Fettuccini Porcini – Fettuccini with Porcini mushrooms.

Rigatoncini all’Amatriciana – Small rigatoni with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato. This pasta originates from the town of Amatrice. One of the towns in Italy hit recently by the earthquake.

(Second Row, left to right)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – One of Rome’s signature dishes made with eggs, cheese (pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper.

Fettuccini al Ragu – Pasta with a meat based sauce.

Pappardelle Cacio e Pepe with goat cheese – Pasta with “cheese and pepper”, Pecorino Romano and black pepper.

(Third Row, left to right)

Gnocchi alla Pomodoro – Small dumplings made with a dough of potato, flour, and egg served in a tomato sauce.

Ravioli Capresi – One of Island of Capri’s signature dishes. Ravioli, filled with caciotta (artisan cheese), Parmesan cheese, and marjoram served in a tomato sauce.

Penne all’Amatriciana – Pasta with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato.

Spaghetti alla Nerano

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

This summer our family returned to Italy. We ventured to the Amalfi coast and stayed in the beautiful town of Positano. From Positano we took several day trips to the town of Amalfi, Ravello, and to the Island of Capri. It was during our boat trip to Capri that the captain pointed to the beaches of the town of Nerano and said that the famous pasta dish, Spaghetti alla Nerano, originated there. After circling the Island of Capri we were dropped off at the Marina Grande and from there we walked uphill to the city center of Capri. After our exhausting hike we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Al Capri Don Alfonso Café. I had the famous Spaghetti alla Nerano, a spaghetti served with a simple yet delicious zucchini sauce. It was so delicious that we were determined to replicate this dish at home.

View from our restaurant in Capri

View from our restaurant in Capri

Spaghetti alla Nerano – Spaghetti with Zucchini Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove (use 2 cloves if they are small) – minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. of zucchini (about 4 – 6 small zucchini)
  • 4 ½ to 6 oz. of Italian Provolone cheese grated. Note: Make sure it is aged hard Italian provolone cheese. Do not use soft deli provolone cheese. If you cannot find Italian Provolone substitute with Italian aged Parmesan.The amount of cheese is up to you. Our family prefers the recipe with the lower amount of cheese.
  •  Italian grated Parmesan cheese for topping.
  • 1 lb. of Spaghetti
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • A handful of fresh Basil julienned
  • Salt and Pepper

Preparation

  1. Thinly slice the zucchini using a mandoline.
  2. Start boiling water for the pasta. Make sure to generously salt the water when it comes to a boil.
  3. Add the olive oil to a separate large pot. Warm the oil and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to release flavors into the oil but do not let the garlic brown. Remove garlic from the oil and set aside.
  4. Add the sliced zucchini to the oil in layers, salting each layer separately. Sauté the zucchini until it cooks down completely._DSC2637_new
  5. Cook the spaghetti for the suggested cooking time. We cook ours 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time because we really enjoy pasta al dente. Remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water that will be used later.
  6. Separate the cooked zucchini into thirds.
    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Place 1/3 of the zucchini in a blender and add a ½ cup of pasta cooking water to blend. _DSC2647_new

  7. Combine the blended zucchini with the rest of the zucchini and add the sautéed garlic. _DSC2649_new
  8. When the spaghetti is done cooking remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
  9. Return the spaghetti to the pot with the zucchini mix. _DSC2651_newRemove from heat. Add the cheese and the butter and mix vigorously to create an emulsion. You will want a silky sauce._DSC2660_new If it is too dry then add more pasta water as necessary. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.

Note: Some recipes do not call for blending the 1/3 of the cooked zucchini. That is entirely up to you. I like the thicker sauce that the blended zucchini makes.

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Buono Appetito!

Brussels – Our Other Home

Brussels Arc de Triomphe in Cinquantenaire Park

Brussels Arc de Triomphe in Cinquantenaire Park

By now you have heard the terrible news of the bombs that went off in Brussels. Brussels is our other home. We lived in Brussels close to 5 years, from 1997 until  2001. It was an amazing experience and was made even more special because both our children were born there. We left a little bit of hearts there. Today my thoughts are with the people of Belgium.

The Town Hall Building in the Grand Place/ Grote Markt

The Town Hall Building in the Grand Place/ Grote Markt – Brussels

Our early years in Brussels 1997 – 2001…

Walking the streets of Brussels with our son.

Walking the streets of Liège, Belgium with our son.

 

Walking the children and the dogs in our neighborhood.

Walking the children and the dogs in our neighborhood.

 

In the Hallerbos, The Bluebell Forest of Belgium located in Halle

In the Hallerbos, The Bluebell Forest of Belgium located in Halle

Our return trip back in 2005…

Visiting the hospital the children were born in: Clinique General St. Jean or in Femish

Visiting the hospital the children were born in: Clinique General St. Jean or in Flemish Algemene Kliniek Sint Jan located in downtown Brussels

 

The Mannekin Pis, a famous statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain's basin.

The Manneken Pis, a famous statue of a little naked boy peeing into the fountain’s basin located in Brussels.

Tasting and learning about the most delicious chocolate in the world, Belgium Chocolate. Here we are in front of Pierre Marcollini with our loot.

Tasting and learning about the most delicious chocolate in the world, Belgian Chocolate. Here we are in front of Pierre Marcolini Luxury Chocolates with our loot.

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Enjoying and climbing the sights of Antwerp, Belgium At The Het Steen Castle

Photos from our return trip in 2013…

The magical medieval city of Bruges

The magical medieval city of Bruges, Belgium

 

Eating the most awesome waffles in the world!

Eating the most awesome waffles in the world!

 

With my children in the Grand Place/Grote Markt

With my children in the Grand Place/Grote Markt 2013

 

 

 

The Life of a Parisian Dog

Le Petit Chien 2013 - Paris

Le Petit Chien
2013 – Paris

Le Petit Chien sits in his basket,

with patience  awaiting his master.

He follows her with his eyes,

as she disappears into Pâtisserie Versailles.

He dreams of creamy éclairs, and tutti frutti tartes,

and of all those little cakes in shapes of hearts.

Le Petit Chien sits in his basket,

with hope awaiting his master.

“Hurry back mon amie,

I promise to help you

with all of those sweet treats!”

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Brussels and Bruges

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels May 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels
May 2013
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

As you may remember, our family lived in Brussels, Belgium for four years from 1997 until 2001. Both our children were born in Brussels. After we returned to the US, I had brought the children to visit Brussels in 2005 but we had not been back since then. We thought it very appropriate to visit Brussels on our last weekend getaway before moving back to the states.

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005
The Grand Place

Visiting Brussels 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Visiting Brussels May 2013
At the Grand Place
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Many friends here have asked me if a weekend is enough time to visit Brussels and my answer is always a resounding yes. Not only did we visit Brussels we took a day trip to beautiful Bruges. Belgium is a country about the size of the state of Maryland. It is located north of France and south of the Netherlands, with Germany and Luxembourg to its east. The country is culturally divided in two halves, the northern half that speaks Flemish (similar to Dutch) and the southern half that speaks French. The two groups do not really like each other and often times choose English as the language of choice to address each other in. Brussels is officially a bilingual city so its streets signs are always in both French and Flemish. Belgium is a country rich in history and with wonderful cuisine, not to mention about 400 varieties of beer, yummy waffles, and the best chocolate in the world.

Neuhaus Chocolates

Neuhaus Chocolates

Although Brussels is a small city it is a very important player in the global stage. Both the European Union and NATO are headquartered in Brussels.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We departed after school on a Friday afternoon on a 5:00 p.m. Eurostar train from St. Pancras International Station in London. The train arrived at Gare Midi in Brussels and from there we took a quick taxi ride to our hotel Le Meridién located across from Gare Central in the heart of the city.  We were checked into the hotel by 8:30 pm (the clock moves forward by 1 hour). We had made reservations for dinner at the Brasserie de la Roue D’Or located near the Grand Place. This classic Art Nouveau brasserie serves typical Belgian fare like waterzooi (chicken or fish soup), vol-au-vent (chicken in mushroom cream sauce served in pastry shells), moules (mussels), and frites (fries). The restaurant has murals that resemble the art of the famous Belgian surreal artist René Magritte. We enjoyed a delicious dinner.

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

The next morning we took a one-hour train ride from Brussels to the medieval city of Bruges. Bruges is located in the Flemish northern part of the country. It is a beautiful city that still preserves its medieval charm. The city has canals running through it and has been referred to as the “Venice of the North”.

The canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We meandered through the streets of Bruges and took one of the canal boat rides. The boat ride allows you to enjoy the canals and charming buildings along the way. We had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called Kok au Vin where delicious Belgian food was served. The main city square is called the Markt Square. There you will find the Belfry of Bruges the medieval bell tower that still functions today.

The charming medieval houses in Bruges

The charming medieval houses in Bruges
The Belfry Tower in the Back
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We returned to Brussels by late afternoon. We strolled over to the Grand Place. The Grand Place or Grote Markt is on the UNESCO list of heritage sites, and rightfully so because in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful city squares in Europe. The earliest mention of the Grand Place is 1174. It has always had seven streets feeding into it. Today it is a collection of private and public buildings, with the Hotel De Ville (City Hall) taking up most of its south side. Other buildings in the square include various guild houses, Cloth, Bread and Meat Halls. Many of the immediate streets off of the Grand Place are cobble-stoned. We decided to enjoy an afternoon snack at one of the cafes in the beautiful Galeries St. Hubert. One of my all time favorite snacks is Crepes Mikado, a crepe accompanied with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. My daughter enjoyed another family favorite, a Dame Blanche (White Lady), the French term for a Hot Fudge sundae.

Walking down Rue de Bouchers - Seafood Restaurant Row

Walking down Rue des Bouchers – Seafood Restaurant Row
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

From the Galeries St. Hubert we entered the section known as Ilot Sacré with its famous street called Rue des Bouchers. This street is full of seafood restaurants exhibiting their exotic seafood displays enticing customers to come in. Make sure you do your research before eating in one of these restaurants, since some of them are tourist traps. We had made reservations for dinner at an outstanding family run Italian restaurant Pasta Divina. The wife rolls out the pasta, the husband is the maître’d and the daughter is one of the waitresses. The pasta dishes were amazingly delicious.

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We spent our Sunday visiting more Brussels tourist attractions. One of the city’s famous landmarks is that of a small fountain statue of a little boy urinating, The Mannekin Pis. The statue dates back to 1619. There are several legends explaining the significance of the statue, one is the story of the little boy who tried to put out a fire in the city by urinating on it. The bottom line is that it is very endearing and Brussels is quite proud of it. The statue even gets dressed in various costumes depending on the occasion.

The Mannequin Pis 2005

The Mannequin Pis 2005

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

The  Jazz Marathon Festival was playing in the Grand Place during our visit.  The Grand Place was set up with dozens of tables and chairs and surrounded by food and drink stalls. On our second day we chose to have lunch at one of the square’s famous Belgian restaurants Restaurant ‘T Kelderke. We enjoyed more delicious Belgian food. We ate stoemp, a typical dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables, accompanied by various meat dishes. My husband and son had stoemp with sausages and I ate stoemp with Carbonnades Flammandes a delicious Flemish beer stew.

One of the Bruges local beer  - Bruges Zot

One of the Bruges local beer – Bruges Zot

We strolled through the Parc de Bruxellles and made our way to the Royal Palace. We visited, The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule dedicated to the male and female patron saints of Brussels. We then meandered to the Place du Grand Sablon another very quaint square filled with cafes, boutiques and restaurants. On of the ends of the Sablon is the gothic church of Notre Dame Du Sablon built in the early 15th century. Not far from the Place du Grand Sablon is Pierre Marcolini, one of Belgium’s world-renowned chocolatiers.

The spoiled life of a yellow life looking over the Bruges Canals

The spoiled life of a yellow labrador looking over the Bruges Canals
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Belgium is famous for its tapestries and lace making. I definitely recommend you buy some of these as souvenirs. One of my favorite shops is Goblins Art located off of the Grand ‘Place. On Sunday afternoon we enjoyed our last Belgian beer and snacks at the restaurant Le Roy off of the Grand Place before heading back to Gare Midi. We would once again bid the city we once called home, “au revoir and tot ziens”.

A Weekend in Dublin

Our family visited Dublin, Ireland the first weekend of May. We left on a Friday on a 5:30 p.m. flight from Heathrow and arrived in Dublin by 6:45 p.m. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and were checked in by 7:30 p.m. We took advantage of a family package offer at The Merrion Hotel. The Merrion Hotel is a beautiful 5 star hotel located on Upper Merrion Street in between Merrion Square park and St. Stephen’s Green. We chose to eat a light dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants, The Cellar Bar. The Cellar bar was cozy and informal.

Walking a Labyrinth at the Dublin Castle

Walking a Labyrinth at the Dublin Castle
The Record Tower in the center.
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

The island of Ireland is the third largest island in Europe.  It is divided into two countries: The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU, and its currency is the Euro. Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and is located on the eastern coast of the island. Since our visit was short we decided to explore the city. If you have an extra day then we would recommend a day trip into the countryside.  You can do these trips on your own or as part of a tour.

Our daughter dancing in Merrion Square Park Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Our daughter dancing in Merrion Square Park
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We spent two days meandering through the city and seeing some of the major sights. We walked through Merrion Square Park and saw the War Memorial dedicated to the Irish Armed Forces. We visited the wonderful Georgian city park, St. Stephen’s Green, built as a gift to the Dublin people from the Guinness family. We walked to the river Liffey and crossed it at different bridges including the famous Ha’Penny Bridge. The bridge, built in the 18th century, was called Ha’Penny after the half penny toll that was charged to cross it. There no longer is a toll but the name remains.

The Ha'Penny Bridge

The Ha’Penny Bridge

From there we went to visit Trinity College founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. Many famous people have graduated from Trinity College like Swift, Wilde and Beckett, and continues to be today one of Ireland’s most prestigious universities.

The Trinity College Library where The Book of Kells is kept.

The Trinity College Library where The Book of Kells is kept.

The college grounds are very pretty but what took my breath away was the Long Room in the Trinity College Library. It was so dramatic yet inviting and warm. There was something so compelling about this room that made you want to take the books out and page through them.

The Long Room in the Library of Trinity College

The Long Room in the Library of Trinity College
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

The books in the library are all in various stages of restoration. The Library also houses the Book of Kells created by Celtic monks around 800 A. D. and covers 4 gospels of the New Testament. The book is referred to as an “illuminated” manuscript because it is decorated with initials, pictures, and borders. The Book of Kells is one of the few surviving manuscripts from the medieval period. It was truly remarkable to see the excellent condition that the book is in and to appreciate the beauty of its brightly colored illustrations.

A Message from the Chaplains to the students of Trinity College

A Message from the Chaplains to the students of Trinity College

We walked through the grounds of Dublin Castle established in 1204. The only section that remains from the Norman period is the Record Tower completed in 1226. Other buildings were added to the castle over the centuries. Unfortunately, we were not able to go in the castle because the buildings themselves were closed to visitors until this summer. On our second night we went to a wonderful restaurant called Bang for dinner. Bang is located on Merrion Row.

St. Patrick's Cathedral St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.

There are two medieval churches in Dublin. The Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Christ Church Cathedral is the older of the two, founded in 1028. We visited the Christ Church Cathedral including its crypt believed to be one of the largest in Britain and Ireland. An unusual exhibit in the crypt is that of a mummified cat and mouse that were found inside the Church organ. Apparently, stuck during a chase in one of the organ tubes circa 1850’s, their bodies were found mummified years later during routine maintenance of the organ. This exhibit is quite the hit with children. James Joyce, the Irish writer, refers to the cat and mouse in his comic prose, Finnegans Wake. He describes someone as being “…As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…” We also went looking for a relic, the heart of Laurence O’Toole, a 12th century Archbishop of Dublin. However, we later learned that someone stole the relic in 2012. I also found out that much of the television series The Tudors was filmed in the Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

We explored the lively neighborhood Temple Bar full of restaurants and pubs. It is located on the south bank of the River Liffey. It retains a lot of its original medieval street layout. We enjoyed a great lunch at Gallagher’s Boxty House and enjoyed delicious boxtys, traditional potato pancakes accompanied with meats.

The Temple Bar in the Temple Bar Neighborhood

The Temple Bar in the Temple Bar Neighborhood

A visit to Dublin would not be complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and learn about the famous Irish stout. Arthur Guinness founded the brewery and signed a lease in 1759 for four acres of land for 9,000 years. The lease is no longer valid since Guinness eventually purchased the land. Arthur Guinness was very keen on this location because of the fresh water he was able to use for his brewing process. During the tour you visit 7 stories of the building, with the center shaped like a Guinness pint glass. You learn about the history of the Guinness stout, its manufacturing, its advertising, and you end the tour with learning how to properly pour your own pint of beer. I had never tasted such a smooth Guinness stout. They say that the Guinness from Dublin tastes different to other Guinness stouts around the world. They attribute this difference to the water used in the brewing process.

We learned to pour our own Guinness pints.

We learned to pour our own Guinness pints.

On our last day we enjoyed a fun afternoon tea at the Clarence Hotel that was bought and refurbished by U2’s Bono and The Edge.

Lastly, I share with you a favorite chocolate cake recipe that uses Guinness stout. It is one of the chocolatiest cakes of all time and is one of our family’s favorite. Of course the alcohol cooks off and the Guinness adds to the chocolate taste. The full recipe yields a 3 – 8” layer cake, and weighs a ton. The recipe can be cut in half and will yield a 2 – 9” layer cake. Enjoy.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Chocolate-Stout-Cake-107105

For further reading go to: http://www.cheapflights.co.uk/news/explore-dublin-in-48-hours/