Simplicity

I feel fantastic when we are in Europe and able to remain in one place to establish a routine. We walk everywhere, and I cannot get enough of that crisp, cold, Alpine air, fresh, vibrant food at the daily markets, a quick workout, and a sauna visit . I love the slow-ness in the small towns, the lingering over long meals and simplicity of life there.  I try to recreate that at home as much as possible, but everything here seems rushed and hurried. Maybe the American culture is to blame…parents rushing their kids from activity to activity, worker bees rushing to go work, then rushing to go home, living for the weekends, trying desperately to create more hours in a day to get all the things done.

less = more

When was the last time you actually sat in silent meditation in nature and slowed down to notice the details,  I mean the bees buzzing, the birds singing, the sunshine on your face?

Yeah, I cannot recall either! I know I am guilty of not doing that enough …

But I am learning that you don’t have to travel too far to find that simplicity and relaxation. It can be  something you create.

Cassis, France

Bonnieux, France

Gruyeres, Switzerland

Bad Tolz, Germany

 

 

 

Black Winter Truffles

Displaying our truffles with Mirabelle the mutt and Jean Marc

We set out in Southern France to experience a  hunt for winter truffles with Johan, and his friend, Jean Marc, who keeps two truffle hunting dogs and trains them specifically for this purpose. I had been looking forward to it, but it turned out to be the highlight of our trip for several reasons. First of all , Johan is very passionate about farming and sustainability, so he is like us! Secondly, truffles are totally fascinating, and so is hunting for them. Third, he served us an array of truffle appetizers and champagne after the hunt!

We learned a great deal about these little fungi, which really are not mushrooms at all. Who knew?

What we learned:

The most revered and expensive truffle in the world is the black winter truffle from France. The white summer truffle is more ubiquitous and often used more in truffle oils found here.

Truffles are darn near impossible to farm because they require strict conditions, plenty of sunlight, consistent watering, winter temperatures above 26 degrees and warm summers with low humidity and loamy soil that drains well. They are not native to many areas, so you won’t find them growing naturally in the US. But these condition all come together perfectly in certain areas of Provence, especially in vineyards.

Truffles rely on oak trees and hazelnut trees to grow, so you will only find them growing below these types of trees, where their spores cling to the root and eventually may produce a truffle if conditions are perfect.

To find a tree that may have truffles growing underneath, look for a circle around the base of the tree where zero grass is growing. If there is grass there will not be a truffle, as they emit an oil or substance that kills that grass below the tree.

They take 7 years to mature.

You can order oak trees with truffle spores on the roots, which is what they did on their farm. However, truffles were already growing naturally for over 100 years on his family farm under the oaks, so they knew conditions were right for farming. Truffles only like direct sunlight.

The olive groves on the farm

Truffles  are only fresh and ready to eat for a few days up to two weeks and lose their fragrance and water weight very day, so shipping them means each day they are out of the ground they are losing flavor and fragrance. A frozen truffle bears little resemblance to a fresh one.

Johan said that 90% of black winter truffle products found in the United States are fake. You can know for sure if what you have is real by reading the ingredient list:  if it includes the term melanospora, it is actual real black truffle. If the label  says”flavor”, it is using chemicals to fool you, and you are paying triple price for it.

The hunt:

Jean Marc’s dogs sniffed a box of tasty treats and immediately knew it was time to begin sniffing around the farm for truffles.  We took them to trees that had no grass , and Mirabelle would identify if there is truffle, sit and then the other dog would begin to feverishly dig. She is trained to dig it up and take it gently in her mouth, but Jean Marc was careful to watch  her to prevent her from destroying it with her claws.

carefully removing a truffle

All you need to do is sniff the dirt to know a truffle has been there because the aroma is so pungent. The truffle should be hard, not spongy.

 

They are sold for about 1 euro per gram. We discovered about 115 grams about 45 minutes!

weighing the truffles

You haven’t lived until you have eaten a fresh black truffle shaved thinly and eaten simply on a slice of bread with cheese or butter. The explosion of flavor and fragrance is unlike anything I have ever tasted.

Here at the farm, they use older truffles to make their truffle salt and truffle oil. The fragrance is so strong that it taints everything in their refrigerator and freezer. Wow!

The best thing I ate in France, right here:

fresh French cheese with shaved black truffle, truffle oil, and truffle salt

truffle ice cream with truffle honey

He  paired all of our tastings with champagne  and it was all included in the tour.

bread topped with fresh butter and shaved black truffle

Please send me a personal email or Facebook message if you are planning a trip to Frnace and would like a tour with Johan. It was my favorite part of our trip and everything is made right here on the farm. You can even ADOPT  A TRUFFLE TREE AND BE SHIPPED FRESH TRUFFLES! Pretty amazing.

And now Larsen and I want to plant a few up on the farm in Virginia as an experiment. What do you think? Should we try it?

 

In love and light,

Lydia

 

Eating our way through Paris

Hallo von Deutschland!

It’s rather nice to sit down and write a blog post for once.  A cup of coffee in hand and BBC World news on the background. Snow outside. Coldest and snowiest winter here in FIVE years.

We traveled around France and Switzerland for about 8 days, and then bedded down in Bad Tolz, Germany for the week to relax with my mother in law and her friends a bit (she is from Bad Tolz), eat delicious German food, and keep our fitness up by walking everywhere and working out in the it most beautiful gym I have ever seen along the Isar River.

Here are some of my favorite photos from our time in Paris. I was blown away by the architecture and age of everything there, including the 17th century apartment we resided in for 3 nights. I loved every cute detail, even the creaky floors and low ceilings.

My next post will be about Provence and our truffle hunt!

XOXO

Lydia

PARIS:

 

Our foray into Asia!

Hello!

We are back from 2 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Where to start?

The  Vietnamese Reunification Day holiday with fireworks?  cooking class on an organic farm? market shopping and hecklers? a harrowing mountain bike ride to a pub  in the middle of the nowhere where you pick out your own live chicken to slaughter? the moment when I thought our driver was taking us to a Vietnamese jail because we got stopped by  scary-looking police and told to turn around? a 2 day trek though the jungle and rivers to the world’s third largest cave in 100+ degree weather?  a biking tour through Angkor’s lesser know areas and temples ? visiting a village in Phong Na Kebang National Park and drinking green tea in the Chief’s hut? eating BUGS?

I didn’t get tired of any of it. I would do it all again. I LOVE ASIA!

Today I am sharing one of the 4 dishes we made with Chef Than on his organic farm outside Ho Chi Minh city, the pork lettuce cups know as San Choi Bao in Vietnamese cooking.

Vietnamese and Khmer food are healthy and fresh, thanks to being so close to the equator and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables . Lemongrass, ginger, papaya, fresh mint and basil, coconut milk, and fish sauce can be found in many dishes. Freshly squeezed fruit juices are readily available everywhere, which I miss terribly already…

I am sharing a few photos of our favorite places and links below if you are ever planning a trip yourself.

HO CHI MINH COOKING CLASSHo Chi Minh Cooking Class

 

Banana Spring Roll with Coconut Cream
Phong Na Ke Bang National Park

Phong Na

Phong Na

The Pub with Cold Beer(yes, you can pick out your live chicken here and yes, it is a harrowing long bike ride to get here but totally worth it!)

pub with cold beer

Pub with Cold Beer Chicken, Morning Glory, Rice and Peanut Sauce

Pub with Cold Beer Chicken, Morning Glory, Rice and Peanut Sauce

 

Hang En Cave with Oxalis Adventure Tours

Hang En Cave campsite

Hang En Cave campsite

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Angkor Archeological Park-

guided by Khmer for Kmher on bicycleVietnam 657
Vietnam 625

Riding around Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia in tuk-tuks.

 

P1030652

BUGS CAFE-mixed bug platter

bug platter

 

San Choi Bao

Serves 3
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 5 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Allergy Peanuts
Meal type Appetizer, Main Dish
Misc Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Try these crunchy Vietnamese lettuce wraps for dinner in under 30 minutes!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup roughly cut mix of oyster and shittake mushrooms
  • 1/2 finely diced onion
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 4 teaspoons Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped red chilies
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons crushed peanuts

Note

You can find fresh oyster mushrooms at Whole Foods.

You can find Vietnamese fish sauce(different than Thai fish sauce) at an Asian market, as well as the oyster sauce and five spice powder!

Directions

Step 1
In a hot wok saute the oil, garlic,chilies and onion about 1-2 minutes until the onion is opaque. Add in pork and stir until cooked.Add in the carrot and mushrooms and all spices and mix well on heat for another minute or two. Serve over lettuce leaves with crushed peanuts sprinkled on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veggie Lasagna

What is it about taking a road trip that is so relaxing? I like to think it is because I get to spend more time than usual with my Love, blare the music, windows- down, and watch the scenery change on an old country road.

We tested the waters by taking our two dogs with us to Virginia for a week, a first for us, and there were plenty of pros and cons to having them along. Enjoy their company and cuteness in the backseat? Sure! Wipe slobber from our arms, shoulders, and console about once every 2-3 minutes? Yeah, not so much…..

We relaxed on the family land/farm in Spotsylvania County, practiced shooting on a makeshift shooting range, visited a neat old winery, spent a day in Charlottesville, backpacked/camped in the Shenandoah National Park, drove Skyline Drive, visited Larsen’s cousin in Lynchburg,and relaxed at a lakehouse at Smith Mountain Lake for 2 days.

Harley & Dad

 

Lucy at the Lake

 

 

Mountain Cove Vineyards was spectacular, mostly because it was 3.5 miles down a long wind-y road, and on a rainy day we were the only people there. We had to call the owner from the office, and he drove down a couple minutes later from his house to unlock the cottage. Inside we tasted 3 different wines and 3 fruit wines. I have only had fruit wine a few times in my life, but it never disappoints!

vineyard phone

winery

A Rainy Day at Mountain Cove Vineyards

I ended up taking home one of each wine plus a blackberry wine and 4 jars of fruit preserves.

Guys, why have I never been to Charlottesville before now? C-ville is my dream town. It has that small-town feel, except they have a Trader Joe’s and artisan goods on every corner and a pretty spectacular food and wine scene. If I lived there, I would try a different winery every weekend and become a wino.

We somehow stumbled across the local Farmer’s Market. Oh. my. goodness. I was in heaven. The smell of corn tortillas being made before my eyes, local cheeses, blackberries the size of ping pong balls,  white peaches, handmade soaps, a Great Harvest Bread Tent AND artisan kombucha brews!

c-ville farmer's market

I gleefully walked  around with a ginger-peach kombucha brewed right there in the Blue Ridge Mountains  hoping to catch a glimpse of Kath of Kath Eats Real Food (just kidding, but hey it would have been cool!) and dreamed of living there one day. It’s just an hour and 15 minute drive from the farm!

That glee was quickly transformed into fear when we found a policeman hanging out by our car, apparently because some cray-cray person thought our dogs look “distressed” . By distressed, I mean they were in a cool parking garage on a rainy day, windows down, with a huge bowl of water, treats, and barking at the occasional car.  We were gone around 30 minutes. Really? really? The cop found the situation amusing and promptly left. I am a dog lover. I would never abandon my dog, nor leave it in a car if it was hot outside. Ever.

Part 2 of our trip will be continued next week, but in the meantime, you must try this veggie lasagna. I had to find some way to use up 5 eggplants and fresh cherry tomatoes before they went bad.  This lasagna is a super easy way to use up any fresh summer  fresh veggies, especially eggplant. I don’t  know about you  but, I struggle with eggplant sometimes. I can make a mean eggplant parmesan , or fry it up and serve with marinara sauce and…and…..and….that’s all I have in my eggplant repertoire. I need to change that! Cooked well,  it transforms into a tender, flavorful and meaty main dish.

lasagna

Right after I made this lasagna,  flipping through the pages of Bon Appetit, I noticed they dedicated a whole article to the humble eggplant. Apparently throwing it onto the hot coals of a grill until is is completely charred on the outside is the en vogue way to cook it. Who knew? Check out this Coal-Roasted Eggplant . I am all for throwing a vegetable on some hot coals and walking away.

eggplants

 

Sorry my posts have been few and far between lately. There is quite a bit going on behind- the- scenes in my life that I hope to share soon!

 

In love and health,

 

Lydia

Veggie Lasagna

Serves 8
Prep time 40 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 25 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Freezable
This vegetarian lasagna is packed with summer vegetables for a complete and healthy meal.

Ingredients

  • 4 small eggplants(or 2 large) (chopped into thin medallions)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1, 24 oz jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1, 15 oz container ricotta cheese
  • 1 bag mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 box lasagna noodle
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Step 1
Sprinkle eggplant with 1 tsp of salt in a large bowl and let it sit 20 minutes. Squueze out any excess water from the eggplant. Pat dry.Spread the eggplant onto a baking sheet. Spritz the eggplant with olive oil.Roast the eggplant at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool
Step 2
Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain.Set aside. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and drop in frozen spinach. Remove from water when spinach has loosened and can be drained. Drain spinach, squeeze out excess water.
Step 3
In a l;rge 9 X 13 dish, spread 1/5 of the sauce on the bottom. Then spread 4 lasagna noodles over the sauce.
Step 4
In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, 1 egg, fresh herbs, salt and pepper and spinach.
Step 5
Layer 1/3 of the ricotta mixture onto lasagna noodles.
Step 6
Layer 1/3 of the eggplant over the ricotta. Layer 1/3 of the cherry tomatoes between all of the eggplant slices to fill in the gaps.Sprinkle with 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese.
Step 7
Spread 1/5 of the sauce over the eggplant.
Step 8
Repeat noodle layer, ricotta layer , eggplant & tomatoes layer ,cheese layer , then sauce layer until you end up with the last layer of eggplant on top.
Step 9
Put one layer of noodles on top of eggplant, then sauce , then last bit of mozzarella cheese.
Step 10
Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees until cheese on top is browned and edges are bubbly.

One Year

It occurred to me 24 hours ago that I posted my first recipe on this blog exactly one year ago.  Between wedding planning, getting married, the honeymoon, the Holidays, and buying a house, a great deal of change has happened over here.

I realize some of you have not been reading my blog that long, so I thought it would be fun to look back at the best recipes and posts to re-share since summer is just around the corner. You can also see how my photography has improved...thank goodness.

This Pasta Salad with Basil Vinaigrette is a tasty, light Spring/Summer side dish you can take to a party.

How about this rich and decadent Chocolate Zucchini Bread to use up all of that leftover zucchini?

A take on Robin Asbell’s Chickpea Fritters with Romesco Sauce.

Or you could try the best healthy Chocolate Chip Cookiesaround town.

An easy and healthy Jamabalaya recipe.

A moist, low-sugar Banana Bread.

Those straight-to-your-hips Snickers Fudge Bars.

And who can forget the wedding day post?

Fun stuff!

I hope the next year of blogging is overflowing with even more recipes and travel posts and love from you guys:-) Thanks for sticking around.

In love and health,

Lydia

 

 

Quinoa Paella

Last weekend was spent with friends and delicious Cajun foods. I was excited to finally throw a Mardi Gras party at the new place and cooked for about 50 people last weekend. Hence, there was very little blogging time and zero photos. I must practice taking photos before friends arrive next time. We served some stuffed ‘shrooms, crawfish- stuffed deviled eggs, crawfish dip, spinach dip, tomato soup, beer bread, chicken and sausage jambalaya, coleslaw, King cake from Keller’s bakery, boudin from Best Stop Grocery in Lafayette Louisiana, brownies, and cupcakes.

I absolutely love having friends over to our place and it just feels like “home” already!

After an exhausting work-week prior to the party, I was planning to go have some fun today in New York City for 3 days. That darn winter storm Nemo is ruining it by cancelling all flights to New York! I got a phone call at 10 p.m. with the bad news. I think I am more sad I won’t be getting to see my friend, Katie, than the visiting the Big Apple ,but we are planning on making up this weekend in the next month or two, sans blizzard. I am bit down today, but I know I will get to New York eventually. Hey, maybe I can get there tomorrow and stay through Monday night! Who knows…

On to my next completely unrelated point, which is that I was thumbing through cookbooks (Whole Grains for Busy People by Lorna Sass) looking for food ideas a month ago, and came across this recipe, a paella made with quinoa instead of rice.

I tweaked this a bit, added more chorizo,  and a new staple in our household has been born:

Chicken and Chorizo Quinoa Paella

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Chorizo is a meat I buy every so often because it just lends  a delicious flavor to dishes: tacos, enchiladas, jambalaya, stuffed mushrooms, and burritos to name a few. I bought a pack of 6 for $5 in the “Mexican” section of the grocery store… note that Mexican chorizo is different than Spanish chorizo. It should be eaten sparingly, no more than a serving a week , because it is a fatty meat. What makes chorizo different from other sausages are the spices and slight sweetness. If you are feeling adventurous and have absolutely nothing else to do, you could get some high quality pork and make your own. Read here for more on that.

Quinoa on the other hand  is a healthy grain, crammed with essential proteins and amino acids and the varieties vary: white, red, or black. I prefer the red and black, but all of them work fine with this recipe. The recipe above is made with red quinoa that I packed in my suitcase straight from Peru. I am reminded of it constantly because the grains have subsequently has found their way into every nook and cranny of my suitcase, clothing, and lingerie because the bag busted while were traveling. Every so often, I reach down into my  shirt, and ” oh’look a piece of quinoa”! Lovely. Sarah B of My New Roots has an interesting and informative blog post on the health benefits of quinoa and explains how to store it and rinse it. Please, please rinse it well!

Enjoy! Folks in New England, make a snowman for me and stay safe in Nemo (since when do we name winter storms?)..

To Your Health,

Lydia

Chicken and Chorizo Quinoa Paella

Serves 8-10
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
This deeply flavorful and smoky Chicken and Chorizo Quinoa Paella makes a healthy and fast weeknight dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1lb chicken thighs (chopped into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked spanish parika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups quinoa (rinsed several times)
  • 1lb chorizo (removed from casing)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup roasted red bellpepper (sliced thinly)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note

I used fresh red pepper because I had no roasted bellpepper on hand and it was still delicious. Saute it with the garlic if you decide to use fresh red bellpepper.

Half the amount of chorizo if you are concerned about the fat content.

 

Directions

Step 1
Brown the chorizo in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Spoon out the cooked chorizo and set aside on paper towels to drain. Get rid of most the excess fat in the pan.
Step 2
Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown about 2 minutes each side in the saucepan on medium-high heat. Transfer to a plate.
Step 3
Saute the garlic in the juices for about 1-2 minutes, then add in paprika and red pepper flakes. Then stir in the broth, scraping up any brown bits. Stir in the tomato paste and bring to a boil. Stir in the quinoa. Cook 12 minutes on medium heat, covered.
Step 4
Season with salt to taste, then add chicken and chorizo. Simmer until quinoa is done(no opaque white dot in center ) and the chicken is cooked through. If the mixture seems too dry or too wet, you can simmer longer or add a bit more broth.
Step 5
Stir in the peas and roasted red pepper. Top with herbs to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Dat, Cher?

Louisiana is another world in itself, and unlike most states with normal street names, it boasts impronouncable street names  which abruptly change from their indecipherable  French to  American names: Tchoupitoulas,  Hebert, and Eraste Landry to name a few.”Laissex le bon temps rou lez” and ‘Who Dat” are plastered on shirts in windows lining the streets of New Orleans. If you listen enough, you will hear the thick Cajun or Creole accents and “cher” placed at the end of a sentence as a term of endearment.

New Orleans is place I remember even as a child as rather dirty, full of the sounds of zydeco and Cajun music at each and every street corner ,and delicious food. The sole purpose of stopping over in New Orleans on the 13 hour drive to Lafayette every other year was to stop and eat.

new orleans

Central Grocery is the highlight of the city for me, a bustling, slightly tired and old 1900’s  grocery store wafting with smells that remind me of Italy and Sicily, where the dust-covered cans in the store shop give it a distinct feeling of home for me. Perhaps it’s the fact you can buy octopus or eel in a can or the fact that there is  gigantic jar of capers for sale the size of my head, but I just feel so comfy in this place.

If you have never been there, you might not know that the muffaletas can feed 4 people: a large round plate-sized French bread , sandwiched onto a thick layer of salami and imported meats,2 slices of  provolone, and their famous and never-to-be-replicated olive salad, dripping with fragrant olive oil.

The meal is not complete without ordering a huge stuffed artichoke pulled out of the refrigerator, a bag of Zapp’s chips, and a root beer. Make your way to the tiny and crowded back counter, where you will sit alongside strangers and savor each bite while commenting on all of the ancient cans of olive oil and signage flecking the store shelves.

muffaleta  zapp's

Walk just a mere block from Central Grocery on Decatur St., turn the corner, and you will find an excellent po’boy place called Johnny’s.

When you awaken in the morning, forget the hotel breakfast and make your way to Cafe Du Monde, where you can only expect to find two things, beignets and coffee. Expect to wait in the lively line a few minutes, which moves quickly, and then enter the green and white ten,t and scope out a tiny, powdered sugar coated table that is just being cleared of the previous occupants’ dishes.

Order the hot chocolate on a cold day, or the cafe au lait, and expect to taste a slight difference in the coffee with that hint of  chicory that Creole enjoy. My mother has bought only Community coffee since I was a kid, and that was no small feat considering it only recently could be found east of the Missisippi. Pa had been shipping it to her along with Steen’s can syrup as long as I can remember.

On our recent visit to Cafe Du Monde, it was bitterly cold, which only made sipping on the piping hot coffee and powdered beignets even better.

For dinner, make a reservation at Bayona on Dauphine Street. A beautiful garden lies behind the stucco house,   beckoning foodies to try its delicious food.We started with the quail salad, which was absolutely divine and the highlight of my meal, crispy, delicate fried quail on a bed of greens with pistachios and a house made Dijon dressing.I then dined on a local fish, tripletail, atop a delicious bed of French lentils and buttery sauce.Dessert . Yes. The hazelnut chocolate tart with blueberry compote and earl grey ice cream was an explosion of perfectly balanced flavors. Order it if you go.

Spend the day perusing the antique stores and boutiques on Royal St. and listen as the sounds of each talented bluegrass or zydeco band blends into one another. The music talent here on the street is astounding, so carry one dollar bills in your pocket to tip them.

Walk Bourbon Street and grab a Hurricane or Grenade if you can handle the sugar and alcohol content (I can’t!) and try not to blush at the risque  signs adorning every strip joint.

Where to stay? Over the years I have stayed in a different hotel each time. I recommend Le Pavillon or the Royal Sonesta if you want to truly experience excellent location, service, and luxury. However, if you are on a budget, the Country Inn and Suites on Magazine St.  is actually built in an old factory, has a heated pool in the courtyard, and a wonderful concierge lady.

This is the New Orleans I know, and I hope this recap is helpful to those of you who plan to visit!

 

 

 

 

 

Carb-Loading Peruvian Style

Besides bringing back a nasty rash on my face and arms from Peru, I brought with me plenty of knowledge about Peruvian food, and items like quinoa, a bag of Lydia-made chocolates, some delicious jam of Andes -mountain wild berries, a tea made of the husks of the cacao bean, and some dried peppers and spices.It was worth the  attention we received from US Customs in the Miami Airport.

I planned on making a few of our favorite dishes when I got home,  and finally after a month, I have a new  recipe for you to try! They call it “cuy”.

I call it a large rat….and someone’s  pet…Just kidding, we are not making cuy on here, people.

Let’s talk about Aji de Gallina now, which is much more pleasant than cuy.

A couple weeks ago, I finally had some time to tinker with this  Peruvian recipe using the Peruvian pepper powder, aji amarillo.

Runners and active peeps, listen up, because this recipe is carb-heavy and low on fiber, which in our case is a good thing the night before a race. Usually, I am enthusiastic about stuffing myself with as much fiber as possible , but the night before a race or long run,   us running-folk stay away from fibrous foods and need to load up on simple carbs .

2BlueEgg’s version of Aji de Gallina

 

This dish is delicious, with a  slightly spicy chicken cream sauce over rice with a side of potatoes, boiled egg, and garnished with black olives.

You can make this with dried chile pepper powder or any dried pepper powder, but it is traditionally made with a ground yellow , fairly mild pepper called aji amarillo.

This recipe is simple and makes a huge amount, so you can eat on it all week if you have a marathon coming up or simply eat it, unbutton your pants and chill on the couch watching Seasons 1 and 2  of Downton Abbey, no marathons required.

I created this version on my own after learning it from both my cousins’ Peruvian cook in Argentina  and from a restaurant in Peru. Mine uses white bread, but I think I prefer it using saltines.

I ate this dish the night before my twenty mile run , and it certainly did its’ magic, because I had  a perfect long run and felt energized all day afterward. Let’s hope it and a pasta diner 2 nights before the race will fuel 26.2 miles !

 

Aji de Gallina

Serves 8-10
Prep time 24 hours
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 25 hours
Allergy Milk, Tree Nuts
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Try this chicken dish for a change from typical chicken and rice. Aji amarillo pepper, eggs, olives, chicken, potatoes, and rice combine to make one flavor-packed Peruvian meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken (whole)
  • 4-5 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives
  • 6 cups white rice (cooked)
  • 1lb golden potatoes
  • 4 boiled eggs
  • 7 slices of white bread
  • 1.5 cups fat-free evaporated milk
  • 6T walnuts (chopped finely)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 large onions (chopped)
  • 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 3 tablespoons aji amarillo powder or chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 cup chicken broth or stock

Note

A Dairy Free version:You could replace the evaporated milk in this recipe with almond milk, and replace the cheese with nutritional yeast.

If you have no white bread:A couple sleeves of saltines would substitute well.

Directions

Step 1
Bake your chicken in the oven ahead of time or even 1 day before at 375 degrees until the juices run clear.
Step 2
Once chicken is cool, remove all meat from bones and chop it.
Step 3
Meanwhile, saute your onion at high heat, then medium heat until nearly caramelized(should be brown). Boil your potatoes until fork tender and set aside.
Step 4
Toss in the chopped garlic to the onion mixture and saute for 2 minutes. Then deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of chicken broth.
Step 5
Stir in the pepper powder
Step 6
Soak the bread in another dish in the evaporated milk for 5 minutes, then tear it up into small pieces
Step 7
Add the bread and rest of the milk to the onion mixture.
Step 8
Stir for 1 minute, then transfer to a blender or food processor until pureed.
Step 9
Return to the pan on low heat, and add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth or more, depending on how thick you want the sauce.
Step 10
Keep it hot, and add the chicken pieces. Warm on low to medium heat just until chicken is hot.
Step 11
Serve immediately over rice. Garnish with boiled potatoes, sliced boiled egg, and kalamata olives!

 

 

 

 

 

Peru: The Inca Trail Days 3 & 4

Day 3 was by far the easiest and most beautiful day on the Trail. I was sore, as in more sore than I have ever felt in my life! We awoke on day 3 to see a gorgeous view of snowcapped peaks, and Mount Salkantay, where a sacred glacier lies. No one is allowed on the mountain, and a legendary city twice as large as Macchu Picchu called Bilcabamba is hidden there.

Day 3 was characterized by  lush, green, and mystical jungle, winding staircases of stone steps, beautiful  Incan ruins that rival Macchu Picchu,and  plenty of rest and relaxation in the second half of the day once we arrived to our campsite by 1 p.m.

The food on the trek was spectacular! Each morning we were awakened with hot coca tea, and a huge breakfast in the dining tent complete with hot porridge, pancakes, cereal, hot chocolate, toast and jam.

Each lunch we were served at least 4 or 5 different hot dishes, an appetizer, and juice.

Each afternoon at Happy Hour we were served freshly popped popcorn crackers, jam, and a special treat on the third day of cake!

Each  night there was chicken, trout, llama, a wonderful  soup, lots of pasta dishes, rice dishes, vegetables, sweet potatoes, yucca balls, and dessert!

Enjoy the photos of the lush jungle and peaks and mystical ruins from Day 3.

 

 

Day 4 we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to line up at a checkpoint that opens up to the trail to Macchu Picchu.

We had a very fit group, and the fastest group of all the groups on the trail. Our goal was to get to the Sungate and Machu Piccu as fast as possible to avoid crowds.

We basically ran up that trail, and made it to the Sun Gate,  which us supposed to offer incredible first views of Macchu Picchu far down in the valley below.Unfortunately, it was completely foggy and rainy. Bummer.

So we made the hour -long trek down, entered Macchu Picchu , and by that time the rain had cleared and we were in awe of this huge, incredible, ancient place.

Entering Macchu Picchu with the group

Macchu Picchu after the rain

 

You really cannot imagine how high and hidden the place is until you visit.

Larsen and I were the only crazies to register to hike to the top of Wayna Picchu. I had to give myself about 10  pep talks to even do it, and twice on our way over decided to sit it out and wait for Larsen because my body was just so tired. I rallied though, because I did not want to let Larsen or the group down, and  decided I was going to kick that mountain’s butt.

We made it up and down in less than 90 minutes, including a 15 minute break at the top to catch our breath and take photos.It’s amazing how mental hiking and running are! They have a lot in common actually. This hike certainly helped me realize that if I can push myself for 8 hours of climbing, a marathon is a piece of cake. In fact, I just ran a 20 miler, and it felt easy. Wow. I am certainly ready mentally for 26.2 miles in  just a couple of weeks at the Savannah Rock N’ Roll Marathon thanks to this trekking.

I am now thankful we hikedWayna Picchu, and highly recommend you make the trek to the top. After all, it may  be the only time you visit Machu Pichu in your life! Don’t miss this special part.

After we went to the top, we hobbled down catch a bus and meet our group for a farewell lunch.I was quite sad to say goodbye to everyone. We all stuck around until  the last possible moment drinking pisco sours until Larsen and I had to catch the Vistadome Train to the country side.

And that complete Part Dos: Inca Trail.