What, No Light Salad Dressing?

When my husband and I moved to Brussels in 1997 many things changed in our lives. There were the obvious things like switching countries, homes, job, leaving career (for me), having babies overseas, making new friends and so forth and so on.

 

The Early Days in Brussels

The Early Days in Brussels – 1998

One of the most impactful changes for us was how we viewed food and the preparation of food. Before moving to Europe, my husband and I prided ourselves in being foodies and good cooks. We enjoyed cooking and had even gone to a weeklong cooking program in Tuscany in 1996. It was in the Florence food markets that we got an appreciation for the “farm to table” concept and for learning what it was to eat foods that were in season. However, back in the states because of our busy work schedules we relied more on processed foods. During the weekdays there were many Marie Callender potpies, Prego spaghetti sauce, and Hamburger Helper. It was only on the weekends that my husband and I had the time to prepare food from scratch. We loved cooking for family and friends.

The farm to table concept in the US in the mid-nineties was more regional and not as commonly accepted as it is today. Little did we know that living in Europe would explode our palates and enlighten our attitudes about food and its preparation.

We did not set out to be food enlightened. It just happened. We found some very different cultural practices in Brussels. For starters, all stores were closed on Sunday, even food stores. Belgians spent Sundays at home with their families and not at a mall.  During the weekdays food stores closed at 6 p.m. At first we felt this was such an inconvenience but we quickly adjusted. We found ourselves cooking even more and spending time at home on the weekends. Belgium is a foodie country where people enjoy their food, wine, and beer. We had access to an amazing array of farmer’s markets. Any bread you bought was delicious freshly baked bread. There was no such thing as processed Wonder Bread or light bread. In time my husband and I gave up drinking diet sodas which had been a staple in our US diets. As any expat will tell you, you need to adjust to the local offerings. We found ourselves trying new foods. We also did a lot of traveling throughout Europe exposing us to an even greater variety of food. In 2001 both my husband and I attended The Cordon Bleu Cooking school in London. He did a cooking program and I did a pâtisserie course thus furthering our passion for cooking.

 

Two babies and Two Yellow Labs

Two babies and Two Yellow Labs

I was a successful graduate of Weight Watchers 35 years ago and have maintained my weight to this date. Before moving to Belgium, I had relied heavily on low-calorie and low-fat processed foods. I was especially dependent on light dressings. When I showed up at the Belgian supermarket I looked for the dressing section only to discover they had ONE kind. It was mustard vinaigrette and it was not even a low-fat version. Oh my, what is a girl to do!! For the first year of living in Belgium, anyone who visited us from the United States was instructed to bring light dressings and Pop-Tarts. OK, I must confess, I still like Pop-Tarts. I did try the local Belgian dressing but it was boring and I was still hung up on the calorie count. Then one day I decided to make my own vinaigrette from scratch. Sure, it was a full calorie dressing, but it was devoid of all the artificial stuff you find in a processed bottle of salad dressing and tasted much better. Gone from my salad dressing were all those unknown food additives. By 1999 I started making my own salad dressings and have never looked back. And guess what? I did not gain weight! My husband and I found ourselves making other things from scratch, like the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner because you could not find Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. We started reading labels carefully, mainly because they were in Flemish and we needed to translate them to make sure we knew what we were buying. In general, we became more mindful of our food quality and its preparation.

My husband making fresh pasta with our son.

My husband making fresh pasta with our son.

In Brussels, I had become a full-time parent, which allowed me to cook more during the weekdays. However, the reality was that with 2 small babies 18 months apart, 2 labs, and a husband who traveled frequently, I felt somewhat overwhelmed and was not as creative with cooking as I had hoped to be. Furthermore our children were picky eaters and I found myself cooking two meals every night, one for the children and one for the adults. Expeditious cooking was the name of the game. In some ways I fell into the trap of feeding my children what they preferred because it was easier: Kraft macaroni-n-cheese, white sauce pasta, and frozen chicken nuggets. I continued experimenting with food and over time my children’s palates evolved. It took until 2007, when the children were 10 and 9, for me to finally be able to prepare one meal for the whole family. In general as a family we started  preparing more food from scratch.

What started out as the need to make certain foods from scratch because they were not available turned into making food from scratch because it was the healthiest and most delicious way to prepare it. I still have a little voice in my head that keeps me on track with my weight. My husband and I prepare food without cutting corners. We may occasionally cut back a little on the butter and cream but we try to stay true to the recipes. We do balance our meals and eat in moderation (well except for Thanksgiving). I love my chocolate cakes as you will read in the link below. We know that we have to exercise to stay in shape. In many ways, exercising is our motivation to continue cooking and enjoying delicious food.

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My homemade dressing

When you make homemade dressing the key is to reach emulsification. Emulsification is when the oil and the vinegar blend into one liquid. There are two ways to achieve emulsification. One is to use the correct ratios between oil and vinegar. Typically, the ratio is 1 part vinegar or other acid such as lemon to 3 parts oil. A second way to enhance emulsification is to use an emulsifying agent such as mustard. There a hundreds of recipes on-line but below I give you my guidelines for my mustard vinaigrette. Buy yourself a salad dressing container that will allow you to blend the ingredients well and store the remaining dressing in the refrigerator.

Classic mustard vinaigrette:

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • cup red wine vinegar
  • About a tsp. of Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper: several turns on the grinder
  • 1 Tbs. of dried Herbes de Provence
  • 1 Tbs. of honey (the honey softens the flavor of the vinegar)
  • 1 Tbs. of Dijon Mustard

Variations on this recipe: You can use olive oil or grape seed oil. When I use olive oil I like to use balsamic vinegar. You can also add freshly cut herbs or shallots. Have fun with it and try different ingredients.

Why I like to Run: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/why-i-like-to-run/

A Foodie Adventure in Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore Castle Asheville, NC

The Biltmore Castle
Asheville, NC

There are so many exciting places to visit in the United States. For us having the focus of doing a culinary adventure sounded very appealing. My husband had heard of Asheville, NC as being a big foodie community. Asheville is also home to the Biltmore Estate a gorgeous castle built by George Vanderbilt III, fashioned after some of the French Loire Valley castles. Asheville is located in the western part of North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains. We decided to drive to Asheville, NC from our home in West Chester, PA. The drive was approximately 9 ½ hours long and we split it into 2 days. The drive took us from Pennsylvania through some very scenic areas of the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. We had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Southern hospitality.

Southern Food at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA

Enjoying Southern food at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA

Our first stop included stopping for dinner in New Market, VA in a 57-year old restaurant called Southern Kitchen. We thoroughly enjoyed a dinner of peanut soup, southern fried chicken, and not-to-be missed peanut butter cream pie.  After enjoying a wonderful dinner we continued on to Christianburg, VA to spend the night. The next morning we were only 3 ½ hours away from Asheville. Asheville, NC has a regional airport and can also be reached by airplane. Asheville is approximately a 4-hour drive from Raleigh, the capital of NC located closer to the center of the state. North Carolina also boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. With so much to do and see, the state of North Carolina can be a wonderful destination visit. Keep in mind that North Carolina is home to some excellent universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, Wake Forest University, and Elon University. So if college visits bring you here, make sure to extend your visit and see more of the state.

Inn on Biltmore Estate

Inn on Biltmore Estate

We arrived in Asheville on a Monday and went straight to our hotel to check-in at The Inn on Biltmore Estate located on the grounds of the Biltmore Castle. We knew our hotel room would not be ready until later so we dropped off our bags and drove into the town of Asheville.

Asheville has become a mecca for foodies, where restaurant chefs have the focus of farm to table. The other great attribute of this city is that it offers a very international selection of cuisine. The city has also become an artist community boasting many galleries and exhibits. We enjoyed our first meal in Asheville at a Latin American restaurant called Chorizo, where we savored a mouth-watering arepa stuffed with shredded pork. We then met up with our foodie walking tour, Eating Asheville. Our wonderful tour guide, Cecily, took us to 6 different venues while also sharing with us some of the city history. Our stops included: The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Chai Pani (Indian street food), Zambras (tapas with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern twist), Table (farm-to-table seasonal), The Gourmet Chip Company (gourmet potato chips), and The French Broad Chocolate Lounge (a to die for chocolatier). At every stop we enjoyed delectable samplings of the food and drink. What a wonderful way to get introduced to the local food scene. I highly recommend that you sign up for foodie tours in the various cities you visit. It’s great entertainment. Cecily also recommended that instead of having a meal at just one restaurant, to try restaurant hopping while sampling their appetizers and drinks. We tried this strategy very successfully on one of our nights in Asheville. This allowed us to sample a variety of restaurants in a short time frame.

Eating Asheville Food Tour with Cecily giving us information about the tour.

Eating Asheville Food Tour with Cecily giving us information about the tour.
At The Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar

Our stay at the Biltmore Inn was wonderful. The hotel sits on top of a hill with beautiful sweeping views of the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore Castle & Estate was built by George Vanderbilt III. It was Vanderbilt’s dream to make the estate self-sustaining. When it was first built in 1895 the estate operated a diary farm. Today, the estate operates a very successful winery. Although, some of the grapes are grown on the property, many are purchased from other regions of the United States. The Winery is one of the most visited wineries in the country.  The Biltmore Inn offers various wonderful choices for dining and serves a lovely Afternoon Tea. Dare I say, that the afternoon tea rivaled some of the best London high tea experiences.

Afternoon Tea at the Biltmore

Afternoon Tea at the Biltmore

During our stay at the Biltmore Inn we took advantage of some of the many activities they offer. We enjoyed a session of Sporting Clays. In the picture I am shooting a 20 gauge double barrel shot gun.  At first I was a little intimidated seeing the shotgun. With the coach’s guidance I found myself holding and shooting the shotgun. The instructor uses a computerized system to propel 6-inch clay discs from different locations into the air that you then attempt to hit. And to my greatest surprise I actually hit the clays. Even my husband was shocked. Annie Oakley, move over!!! Another fun activity is the Land Rover driving school where you get instruction on off-road driving. Other activities include: fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, river trips, Segway tours, biking, and carriage rides. There is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.

Annie Oakley Move Over!

Annie Oakley Move Over!

One very special activity that we did was a Private Food Demonstration that I arranged through the Biltmore Catering Department. A wonderful menu was especially prepared for us and demonstrated by Chef Kirk together with his sous chef and pastry chef. In addition, we had the wonderful service of two waitresses that made sure the champagne and wines were appropriately matched. All of this took place in one of their catering kitchens. The session was an amazing display of cuisine by a professional and friendly crew offering us an experience and lunch to remember.

Our Private Food Demonstration

Our Private Food Demonstration

The Biltmore Estate is still privately owned by the Vanderbilt Family and employs 1700 people and is visited by more than one million guests a year. We enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Biltmore Castle and its extensive gardens. The audio tour guide provided with the admission ticket is a great way to enjoy the property and learn its history. We really enjoyed the Biltmore Estate and hope to return again someday.

Our Delicious Private Food Demonstration Menu

Our Delicious Private Food Demonstration Menu

For more information on foodie tour in Asheville go to:  http://eatingasheville.com/

For more information on the Biltmore Estate go to: http://www.biltmore.com