Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Travel: Nice- Day Four

Well! So we got up early, had breakfast, and packed everything up and checked out. JUST as we were leaving the hotel, this scouse lady came up to us. She said “I couldn’t help overhearing that you were English- have you seen the news atall?” And we were like “No, why?” then she said “Well, theres been a volcanic eruption, we’re supposed to be flying to Newcastle today but we got an email in at 4:30 in the morning telling us that theres a high possibility our flight would be cancelled, my husband and son have gone to the airport to check what was going on”. We thanked her for the heads up and headed onto the airport, hoping that maybe we would be O.K, considering by that time they had only cancelled flights from the northern parts of the country, and we were going to Bristol. So when we got to the airport after doing all the checking in stuff we then sat down and bought THE MOST EXPENSIVE BEERS EVER. Like as I have said before, food and booze is double the price in Nice, but the airport bar was mental. 10.80 Euros for a pint and a half??? Ahhhh! And it wasn’t even nice beer- it was Kronenberg.

I have recently got into beer. This is a particularly good change in my tastes, as it means both me and my partner can have the same drink, and its easy to order in French as well, lol. Along with beer, I have also suddenly started to like spicy foods and tea, which is funny because I really used to hate them all. So I have started to figure out which beers I like and which ones I don’t like. So far the only beers I’ve figured out that I don’t like is this Thai beer called “Elephant beer” and Kronenberg. I can’t believe how popular Kronenberg is. It’s gross. The nicest beer I have had was in Nice actually. It is called “Pelforth”- it is really flavoursome and refreshing, slightly sorta floral taste to it, even with the darker variety of it. Its logo is a white pelican holding a flower, and it is really nice, next time your in France really have a look out for it. Heres a picture of me having a pint of it at a bar at some point, can’t remember where. It looks massive but its just the way the pictures taken.

So this part was ridiculous. Whilst we were waiting in the departures lounge (is that what you call it? Not sure) it said on the screen with all the flights on eventually that our Bristol flight was “Delayed”. However, Nick checked out the Bristol Airport site and it said our flight was cancelled. So, eventually Nick decided he would go back through the metally detector checking area thing (what do they call those?) to the EasyJet desk to try and find out what was going on. He left me on the other side with the bags, and I ended up chatting to this really nice woman from Cornwall….oh wait, was it Devon? I dunno, something like that. She was really nice actually; she was in the south of France because she worked for a really rich insurance company that basically fully insured the uber expensive houses in Monaco/Monte Carlo etc.

It’s funny how many people you end up talking to when things go wrong. It’s like, we have this whole British awkwardness/ reserve, but it fades away when mistakes happen. If you were waiting at the bus stop you wouldn’t talk to any of the people around you, but if it got cancelled or it was really late- you so totally would. So anyway, it had been like an hour and a half, so I said the woman “I am going to check out what’s going on, shall come back and say once I’ve found out”. So I went through and found Nick at the Easyjet desk the front of a queue that he had been for the last hour and a half. He was explaining to the French woman on the desk that his flight said it was cancelled, and so she was like (pretending she was speaking like a british person) “right, so I order your bag back up” (I had already checked my bag in- Nicks is small enough for hand luggage) “and I will cancel your flight tickets” and I will book you a hotel, with flights to Stanstead tomorrow”. And so after she did all that, and then suddenly she went (even though we totally mentioned it) “Hang on, you are on the Bristol flight, I thought you were on the Luton flight” (a Luton flight had been cancelled a couple of hours ago) “ On our screens it says your flight is delayed- not cancelled” we explained to her that on Bristol’s airport information it said our flight was cancelled, but she just said, well, you have to wait the other side, it is still flying according to them. So we had to frickin re-validate our tickets, send our bag back on the right track (which I was worrying about would be lost, cause its easy to lose bags anyway, let alone when its being moved around all the time) and go back through the metal detector place.

We then had another expensive beer and waited around for an hour for our delayed flight to arrive. When we heard the announcement we were thinking it would be “We are ready to board you now” kinda thing, but no, it was “The flight to Bristol has been cancelled”. So I said, OK, quick, come on Nick, and we went as quick as possible to get to the Easyjet desk before anyone else. Massive queue of course. I mean, we ended up queuing up again for 3 hours (I tried talking to one of the French EasyJet blokes, saying Nick had already queued up at this desk for an hour and a half only to be turned away with incorrect information, and that this wasn’t fair, but he just said we had to queue up again). It was funny, there were two young (ehh, early twenties I reckon) girls ahead of us, blonde, fairly scantily clad, and we ended up chatting to them. They had been travelling around Spain and then France, and were supposed to fly yesterday, but Easyjet screwed their flight up and so they delayed it for today. Felt well sorry for them! If only Easyjet hadn’t screwed their flight up the day before, they would have been back in Blighty, but now me and nick expected that they were stuck at least for a few more days.

Anyway, so you think we had it bad? I took a picture of the Easyjet queue. Absolutely mental, we were fairly at the front I guess, and it took 3 hours to get to the desk. And there was only 2 people working on the desks for all these people, each person or couple taking about 10-15 minutes to sort out (accommodation, new flight etc.). So if you look at all these people, the queue going much further than those blue signs over there right at the back. Me and Nick figured out that people would have been queuing until at least 10pm or something, (it being about 11ish at the time).

Woman sorted us out a near-airport hotel for the night, and a flight to Paris early morning the next day. So we checked in, had our free EasyJet provided lunch (chicken and chips…..I realise I don’t even like chips. Only chips that are really soggy, like the ones at Fish and Chip shops. Or covered in cheese, Haha) and we decided we would check out the site in Nice that so far we hadn’t managed to find- Some Russian Cathedral or something. Well turns out it wasn’t that far away. Although I mean, it’s not in the nicest of areas compared to the other sites. The area around the church and its garden it a bit slummy in my opinion. Anyway, this Russian Orthodox Cathedral was really beautiful. Quite a sad story behind it as well, this very rich woman had a young fiancé that she loved a lot, but he died before they got married, so she put forward the money to build this Cathedral in his honour, and also this building housing his body, which is placed in the same position that his old house was. Really sad but very beautiful. Nice little garden surrounding it as well, would be good for a picnic and we saw many a sunbather.

We walked back to the area near our hotel and found a nice café with tables outside. We felt like we had done everything in Nice, so we just wanted a place to sit and drink for a while until the restaurant we wanted to go to opened its doors. It took us three drinks until we realised what the bar was called. Haha! Nick sent that to all his friends, him having gained rather a lot of weight recently.

We felt very happy that we were able to go to that Italian place I told you about before, the nice looking one that we noticed AFTER we had had that really crappy meal somewhere else. The meal was really great. We both chose as a starter the “mixed vegetable antipasti”- all the antipasti dishes being in big bowls behind us, which the waiters would go and get plates and fill them up pretty much in front of you. There were separately char grilled courgettes, aubergines, peppers, mushrooms, onions, with different herbs and oils and dressings, oh and also some nice Tortilla/omlettey thing, and some good bread on the side (which is nice because in most of the restaurants we had been to in Nice served really stale/crappy bread). So that was scrummy, for mains I had veal with a creamy sauce, with some farfalle in a tomato sauce on the side. It was all right I guess, I thought the meat was a fairly stingy portion, and this was the first time I have ever tried veal, and I wasn’t really very impressed. As far as I’m concerned, its just like a white, less beefy tasting beef. Nick’s pizza looked rather nice, it was a ham, olive and artichoke one I think- he was really happy with it, as it was making up for the worst pizza he had ever had the night before.

The cool thing which I think I SHOULD have ordered, however it wasn’t on the specials board or on the menu inside, only on the menu on the OUTSIDE. This chef wheels out this big marble slab with like, a bowl carved out of it. The slab is heated, and into the bowl goes in some alcohol (“mountain brandy” I found out) which he sets on fire. He then adds cream, pre-cooked tagliatelli and rosemary, and cooks round for a 1 minute or so, to combine and heat up. He then silver serves this and a waiter brings it to the customer’s tables. That was a really cool demonstration of table cookery. I remember learning that at college. Going out to table in the college restaurant with a gas stove, getting the heat on and making flaming crepe suzettes for customers. We had a good laugh doing that.

Anyway, so we got a shuttle back to the hotel and had another early night, due to a very early flight to Paris the next morning.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Travel: Nice- Day Three

So after another lovely breakfast, we posted our postcards and went to the train station again. On our way we bought a baguette, some Swiss cheese-kinda stuff, salami, garlic cream cheese, butter and a HUGE braeburn apple. The fruit you get when you are abroad are always massive aren’t they? I remember when I went to Naples seeing watermelons that were so massive you couldn’t even fit it into the boot of your car, and peaches in the Barcelona markets, double-maybe triple the size of the ones we get here. Anyway, we bought all that stuff so we could have a picnic when we got to our destination.

We were heading off to a place called “Vintimiglia”, which is right on the border of Italy- on the train journey we went through Monaco and Monte Carlo. Beautiful views on the way there, really. The beaches start to get a little nicer heading along that way as well- the beaches in Nice are clean but they are very pebbly.

When we got off the train we walked around a bit, went down to the beach to have a look, and eventually found a really nice park fairly near the coast. We had read that there were supposed to be a huge botanical garden in Vintimiglia, but when we saw a map we realised that the gardens are slightly out of town. If you had rented a car I reckon it would be well worth a visit. Anyway, we had our lush little picnic and after that I had a spot of sunbathing. Gorgeous weather. Course it still didn’t make a difference, I still have a similar complexion to that sullen vampire boy that everyone seems to fancy at the moment. Can’t see it myself.

After that we went for a big long wandering walk through the old parts of the town. There were two big churches/cathedrals there, one of them was closed for some reason but the other one was pretty cool, really ancient looking. It wasn’t just a historical church, I noticed there were loads of beautiful flower garlands and a load of confetti outside so there must have been a wedding recently. Imagine getting married in this place! Amazing!

Right at the top of the town (as you can see some of the town is quite steep!) we found this amazing garden, with these totally weird looking houses. I mean, it’s part of a 16th or 17th century Italian fortification, and they just built a house in it! Didn’t change any of it! I think it looks a bit like those deserty houses in that Star Wars film- Phantom Menace I think. Oh in the garden photo, I am trying to tease a very skinny little cat towards me.

We walked down to the coast again and walked along until we found a good bar. Lot’s of nice beach side bars here actually, which is something that is lacking in Nice. I honestly thought that, like all the other Mediterranean coastal places I’ve visited, that the Promenade de Anglais would be covered in nice bars but no, it’s a bit boring really, just a massive fairly wide pavement, with the very occasional expensive seafood restaurant. Anyway, this bar was so nice, we spent ages here. Sun, sea, sand, good beer and good company. Perfec! They gave us as a free compliment to our beer some tomatoey focaccia and some really tasty nibbly things- that we eventually figured out were corn kernels, that were crunchy and coated in a flavoursome (can’t really put my finger on the taste) powder. Couldn’t stop eating those, maybe there was a bit of the MSG factor in there but whatever, I didn’t mind. If I cared about MSG then I wouldn’t have worked for Wagamamas for nine months! (There is MSG in almost EVERY single dish there. Seriously, there are only like three items on their menu that is msg free).

After chilling out we figured we should be heading back into town. We decided to do our present shopping! I always bring stuff back for my family, usually food. There were some really lovely shops/delis round there, I ended up buying: 1 bar pistachio dark chocolate, 1 bar crème brulee flavoured chocolate, 1 bar pecan chocolate (running theme here? Hah) a jar of really nice looking green pesto (that I have used in my Provencal pasta recipe, which I will post up in a few days. Really yummy) some vac-packed chilli oregano marinated green olives (totally spicy!!). I also bought THE BIGGEST PEPPER IN THE WORLD!!! It weighed over half a kilogram, and as you can see in this photo, it’s bigger than my face! We ended up giving it to our friend as a weird token gift for letting us stay with her a night in Paris (we bought her dinner as well, we aint that stingy).Oh and Nick got some really cute farfalle at this amazing pasta shop. Its coloured pink and green, it’s really sweet. Haven’t made anything with that yet, thinking of using the rest of the pesto I have and some purple sprouting broccoli maybe. Hmmm, not sure yet, you’ll find out sometime soon.

We then went for a little scout for a pizza place. Nick was being a little toddler-ish about it, he was like I don’t want anything else, I want to have a PIZZA because we are in ITALY. I don’t want anything else! I mean, Nick and I have been to Venice, but Nick feels that before now he has never been to “Italy”. I can totally understand that. I have been to Naples, and it just screams ‘Traditional Italy’. Venice is weird. I mean it is like one of my favourite cities in the world, but is not as over-the-top friendly as the rest of Italy, and it just doesn’t feel as Italian. Maybe because it used to be run by Austria? Anyway, so I had to tell him, listen, in Italy pizza isn’t as ‘traditional’ or popular as you might think. The usual menus you get have antipasti, then pasta, then meat/fish, then pudding and then cheese. As many courses as you can possible cram in. Which I love, being a very greedy girl. We searched in vain for a pizza place, and had to get on the train, because there wasn’t a later train due to the train strike. Felt a bit sad that we didn’t have a restaurant meal in Italy, but the picnic was very nice though.

So we went to the first pizza place we saw, near the hotel, (that I kinda thought was the one Trip advisor recommended, but it wasn’t- more on that later) ratings and OH MY GOD it was one of the worst meals (service wise) that me and my boyfriend have ever had. For starters I ordered the vegetable soup and nick ordered a salad Nicoise. What came, was a joke. My soup was basically orange looking vegetable water, which tasted of nothing, with some vegetables and pasta at the bottom that kinda tasted like they were ‘mixed frozen veg’ vegetables. Nick’s “Nicoise” was just not a Nicoise, it was basically limp iceberg lettuce with dry cucumber, slightly browning bits of celery, overcooked green beans, olives, and hard boiled eggs that have that funny grey ring round the yolk meaning that it isn’t very nice. There was no tuna, no anchovies or peppers or anything. So Nick failed to have a Nicoise salad in Nice, which was kinda sad. I may make one for him sometime soon, to make up for it. Not my kind of thing though, can’t stand fish.

After the first course, the fat moody French waiter just tipped the plates of our first course to allow the dirty cutlery to clatter back to the table, without saying a word, rather unsubtly sending us the message that we were to use the dirty cutlery for our second course. When our mains arrived, my spag bol was all right I guess. But I mean, I don’t think the portion was big enough, and also it’s not hard to make a good spaghetti Bolognese, so I’m not really singing their praises. Nick’s pizza was DREADFUL. He said even a 99p pre-made pizza base from Morrissons would have been better, and the pizza was covered with the grossest fattiest ham. And then the waiter deliberately ignored for like, half an hour, after asking for the bill twice, and it wasn’t even busy! Don’t know whether it was because he didn’t like us because we were English, but seriously, what a bad meal.

We settled up without giving a penny tip, and went back to the hotel for dessert. On the way back, we saw this AMAZING looking Italian restaurant, that turned out to be the place everyone was recommending on tripadvisor. We felt so bad that we didn’t see it on the way there! Absolutely gutted! At the hotel we had beer, and crisps and nice chocolaty biscuits. We got an early night because we were ‘supposed’ (although we didn’t know it was ‘supposed’ at that time) to be flying back to Blighty the next day. Little did we know…….

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Travel: Nice- Day Two

I thought i should mention just incase- Just click on the pictures if you want to see a larger copy of them x

Nice little sleep and down to breakfast. I love hotel breakfasts. I don’t know what makes me go so mad. Normally I just have one slice of toast or a yoghurt at home but when in front of that breakfast buffet it’s like yes, I shall go up for my third croissant course before starting on the cheese and cold cut meats.

Breakfast was really nice there. Small breakfast room but a nice selection of things. Really nice little garlicky roasted sausage (no bacon in sight actually), cold salami and ham, scrambled and hard boiled eggs (didn’t go for it as I don’t like the way eggs are done in hotels). Nice yoghurts, croissants, pan au chocolates, orange juice, cereal and bread rolls. Good coffee too, which Is good because that’s where hotels often go wrong. Hotels end up having a massive buffet selection but then their coffee is awful. And really im a coffee addict, I’m better than I used to be (used to have 3 Venti Starbucks black coffees a day) but sometimes I could do without breakfast or snacks as long as I can have a good cup of Joe.

We went to find the train station and on the way we went past a really Fab looking organic fruit and vegetable market. Very scrummy looking produce, dark red strawberries, big artichokes, round purple aubergines, funny wrinkly beef tomatoes. When we got to the train station we found out that at the moment there is a train strike going on in France. Great! Our plan for the day was to get on a country train and head up north to the beautiful mountain towns near Nice. Because of the strike we couldn’t go as far as we wanted- or for as long as we wanted- but we ended up going to a medieval walled town called Entrevaux, on a nice slow train under the small rail company Chemins de Fer de Provence.

We had a little time before the train, so we had a lunch at a nice café nearby. Felt like something light, so we both split a main course ‘Lasagne de legume’ which was basically a vegetable lasagne with goats cheese and a main course tomato, mozzarella and olive salad. Here, every so often, the man at the open counter would take this massive handled pizza pan out of the oven, with a flat omlettey looking thing on it. It is called ‘Socca’. Actually I just wikipedia’d it and I realised that it’s basically like a savoury crepe made of chickpea flour. Oh man, I didn’t order it cause I thought it was eggy!!!(I’m kinda intolerant to eggs). Well it looked delicious anyway, and it was cheap, it’s a type of street food. As is something called ‘Pissaladiere’. It’s a pizza base, with caramelised garlicky herby onions, and also black olives or anchovies (or both) on top. Unfortunately I tried neither whilst I was there. Heres a good picture example of it that I got from Wikipedia:

When I’m on holiday I usually just have three rather large meals a day, meaning that I never really snack, and I wouldn’t really treat Pissaladiere as an actual main course. I may try and make a version at home at some point, as my mum was saying she would love it if I had a go at making pizza dough, so we can make nice homemade pizzas at home with lush toppings.

So we got the train and the trip was lovely, the scenery- beautiful. Im not sure whether it was the train strike or not, but for some reason a couple of times we got off the train and (with the train driver in tow) got onto a bus and then travelled on that for a bit, and then got back on the train. I have a feeling though that it might just be because of the mountainous region- that it was impossible to put train tracks through certain points. Here are a few nice photos of the way there, including a very scary looking hopefully- not-still-used bridge.

Now then. Here is what Entrevaux looks like (ignore the green railings got em in by accident, you CAN get into the village, lol)

We did not have enough time to walk up to that big fort at the top unfortunately (because of the last train back being fairly early, due to ruddy train strike) but we wandered around the village which was really cool. Most of it looks like this.

Nick said he’d never been anywhere like it. Really old and very quiet, not many people around. Nick decided he would take about 100 “arty” photos of all the cool ancient doors. Here is a funky looking one that happily I found a very friendly moggy in front of.

There was a nice cathedral here, 16th century- not sure what it was called but it was dedicated to The Virgin Mary, I remember that. As you can see it’s so beautiful and colourful inside as well. There is also an old motorcycle museum there (that was closed whilst we were there unfortunately) and we found out in Mid-August sometime there is a big impressive looking Medieval Fete which might make Entreveux worth even more of a journey, if you ever visit Nice or somewhere close.

I had a really nice time in Entrevaux, it was really interesting and eerie at the same time. This is just me, and a picture of the view on the way back.

After getting back and dressed for dinner, we went to this fresh ravioli place (called "Le Mascot") that we spotted on our way to the train station. It looked basic and homely from the outside, and was still very near to the hotel. Also me and Nick have had good experiences of fresh ravioli joints. When we were in Venice and we had wandered about for many hours, we found this really out of way in-a-dark-alley kinda place, that turned out to serve fresh ravioli. For some reason all the waiters were Hawaiian or from Maui or something , which was strange to find in the middle of Italy. We had this beautiful pasta, I chose the beef and age ravioli whilst he chose the roast red chicory (which seem to be a speciality of Venice because I can’t find it in the U.K- it’s delicious) ravioli and it was amazing.

Well at this place we shared a platter of beef ravioli with tomato sauce and “Bolet” (a type of French wild mushroom) ravioli and both were lovely. I mean, I couldn’t be sure whether they were fresh or not, and was slightly doubtful due to the size of the ravioli (they were very small- homemade ravioli in restaurants are usually made bigger as it doesn’t take as long to prepare compared to making many little ones) and the occasional ‘ding!’ we heard before serving. Nothing wrong with microwaves, pretty much every kitchen I’ve worked in has one- they are very useful for heating up things quickly, or melting butter and stuff. But just gave me a few doubts. They were delicious anyway- fresh or not. We had some nice wine as well. In a lot of restaurants in Nice if you ask for the house red/white/rose it is served in a carafe (250 or 500ml). First of all I think that the house wines I have ordered in France have always been much nicer than the house wines we have in England. In Nice I recommend ordering Rose, all the Rose’s i had in Provence were delicious.

We then went to bed, to get ready to a vaguely early morning- due to the fact we were making sure we wouldn’t miss the train to Italy the next day- There only being one going out there the next day, due to the train strike. We also (just before bed) had some really nice yellow juicy plum things and they were gorgeaus! Not sure what they were exactly, the colour of an apricot, the size of a plum, taste similar to a greengage.

Travel: Nice- Day One

So! Ruddy hell, I never thought an Icelandic volcano could cause so much trouble! And you know what’s so weird? When we (Me and Nick- the boyfriend) were planning the holiday, my first suggestion was “Let’s go to Iceland!!!”, and then Nick was like “No, that’s too expensive, let’s spend a weekend in Paris” but I was browsing destinations and I found more about Nice and liked the look of it. Very coincidental that Iceland erupts and we end up in Paris anyway!

The entries about my holidays in Nice, I will base around my meals. That’s how I usually plan and remember all my holidays anyway. It’s like, “oh yeah we went to see the Rialto Bridge- of course that was after we had that FABULOUS meal at that quaint fresh ravioli restaurant that was full of Hawaiian waiters for some reason”.

So we had a rather early flight Monday morning, had to get up at 4am! I’m the kinda person that believes waking up any time before six should at some point be made illegal. Bristol airport is just so easy and quick to get through- Heathrow and Gatwick scare me a little and are totally fussy.

Even though we had breakfast at the Airport at 6:30am, Nick still had a beer. I said “what are you doing???” And he said “what? I’m on holiday!” What is it about travelling anywhere that makes you act totally strange. Not in any circumstance would you have a beer that early in the morning, but just because your’e going on a plane you end up having a drink. I had a bacon bap for breakfast, and it wasn’t that bad atall actually.

Arrived in Nice and got the airport bus that ran along the Promenade des Anglais. We got off and had a nice walk along there. Even though it was early in the morning and only spring we were really surprised about how wonderfully sunny it was. It was fairly warm for April, and I get the feeling that it would never get unbearably hot- because you get a really nice breeze from the coast to cool you down. As you can see here, there is really a reason why they call it “The Azure Coast”. Absolutely beautiful.

We walked up to our hotel, only about a 10 minutes (if that) walk from the coast, the “Hotel Gounod”. I had chosen this hotel, as it’s Trip Advisor reviews were rather good, it was a 3 star hotel (which is what we were looking for), very reasonably priced, and to me it looked very stereotypically French. We requested a balcony and we got a lovely one, we were on the top floor and had a nice view of beautiful buildings. This is their website , and here I have a picture of our room and me chilling out on our balcony.

Once we had checked in and all that, we started wandering around the town, getting our bearings and keeping a keen eye out for a nice place to eat. The place that we found, menu was in French, we got a nice table in the sun, with the noises of a fountain (and the occasional noisy scooter) in the background. This meal actually happened to be the best meal of the holiday. Now there is something I must tell you about Nice that we discovered fairly early on in the holiday. Everything in Nice- in particular food and drink- is double the price of typical English fare. I never thought I would visit a more expensive place than Venice, but here I stood corrected.

Also something that took me by surprise were the portion sizes here. I expected it to be small, French ‘nouvelle-cuisiney’ kind of portions, but no, they are totally Americanised. As you can see here, we shared a massive starter of deep fried courgette flowers (which was served with a fresh ‘Provencal sauce’- which composed of a flavoursome tomato sauce topped with blended basil or pesto).

They were absolutely gorgeous, heavenly. I love courgette flowers SO much but I don’t know anywhere in this country where you can buy them! I like the way they do them in Greece, stuffed with a herby rice mixture, deep fried and served with tzatziki. I have also seen Jamie Oliver and Valentine Warner make scrummy recipes from them. Haven’t seen them in any shops though- I have received a free packet of courgette seeds (as well as others) from the BBC, and may try growing courgettes from scratch in order to obtain their delicious blossoms.

For main I ordered the rotisserie rabbit with sautéed potatoes and onions, and my boyfriend had Beef Daube- which is basically like Beef boerginoun except a little less winey and using Provencal herbs. In Provence boerginoun and stews like this are usually served with tagliatelli/ paparadelli. Both were delicious. I had never tried rabbit before and my verdict: hate to say it but I thought it tasted exactly like chicken. Maybe thought that the French guys in the kitchen were just like “Eh, she’s English, she wont tell the difference, just send the chicken”. Haha, but silly comments aside I knew it was rabbit because of the way the bones were. Was gorgeous, tasted all nice and barbequed-y, and must’ve had about 30 cloves of garlic in it- however I am particularly fond of this. If ya don’t like garlic then I do not recommend a visit to France.

The restaurant was a few steps away from this cool fountain. I thought I’d show you this cause I think it’s a little funny

In Nice, every day except Mondays there is a massive flower market, which is supposed to be pretty amazing. We visited this place on Monday- where in place of the flower market there is a massive flea market- full of anything and everything you could ever want. My boyfriend bought me a nice pair of sunglasses as a gift for me that I (proudly and successfully) haggled the market vendor for.

After a bit of a wander, we came across this place, just called “The Chateau” if I remember right. Walking up there you can see some fantastic views of the city, as well as some beautiful botanical gardens, a really pretty fountain.

The blossoms were in full tow there, and if you see there behind me on the right- that is the ruins of the 1st First Romanesque Church (11th-12th century).

We then went a-wandering round Old Nice (the old part of the town). Very sort-of Italian, lot’s of winding streets with houses with pillars and those coloured window shutters. Plenty of hidden away, nice looking restaurants round here. FYI if you are like my parents when they go on holiday- around here there were quite a few Indian restaurants. Whenever I’ve been on holiday with mum and dad- whatever country- we always have a massive search for an Indian restaurant. Which often takes ages because curries haven’t caught on in European countries as much as in the U.K. We also saw some amazing open air beautiful spice/dried herbs/ bottles of vinegary oily things shops. Like with big clay bowls piled up with saffron and herbs du Provence and things like that.

It’s really weird, we just walked past this building, with big doors, one of which was open- and there weren’t any signs or anything outside of it- and I said to Nick “Hey- theres something in here!”. Turns out to be something called the “Palais Lascaris”- a 17th century Maltese palace. It’s got loads of old tapestries, statues, paintings and furniture. It also has an apothecary fitted in 1738. When I looked around at the labels of all those draws, some of the labels say “Millipedes” and “Absinth”. Not like Boots is it?

Also here they have THE OLDEST complete trombone in the world, dated 1581.

After that we were all a bit knackered, and decided to have an early night. We got back to the hotel, and a piece of paper had been shuvved under our door, informing us of a ‘meal deal’ the restaurant in their sister restaurant next door (Hotel Splendid- its basically a 4-star-with-a-spa much more expensive place- don’t bother with it, Gounod is nicer) and since we were so tired we didn’t want to wander about for ages looking for somewhere to eat, we went there.

Dissapointed really. Meh. Starter was prosciutto ham salad (Basic) and main dish sounded nice in French, a chicken casserole/stew with saffron rice. It was kinda canteeny gross. Maybe some of you get me, you know when you order paella from somewhere that doesn’t know how to make paella? And the rice is yellow, slightly chewy, and kinda tastes of overcooked peppers. It was like that. And the chicken tasted a bit like a ‘chicken tonight’ situation.

Anyway, so we watched a little french TV (enough until I said to Nick “please stop, my head is melting”) and we went to bed. I had a really nice first day, and we got loads done actually.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Salad

This is my kinda salad. The salads I like are big. The salads I like tend to use leaves other than ordinary mixed leaves/iceberg (like watercress, rocket, spinach, lambs lettuce etc.) And often the salads I like tend to have some sort of warm element to them. Using more nice seasonal spinach leaves, this is a healthy man-sized "hearty" salad, implementing the sweet flavours of the squash and the delightful tang of the goats cheese.

This recipe won me second place in a competition by the World Wildlife Fund (winning me a massive riverford fruit and veg box, and a nice bottle of orgnaic fairtrade bubbly!)

Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Salad (serves 2) £1.95 per portion

The salad:
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (use about 300g of the roasted squash)
Drizzle Olive oil
Sprinkling of garam masala
Salt, black pepper and sugar
100g young leaf spinach
30g pine nuts, toasted
100g soft goats cheese

The dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp wholegrain mustard
Squeeze runny honey
Salt, black pepper and sugar to taste

1. Heat the oven to 180C. Put the butternut squash in a roasting tin with olive oil, a sprinkling of garam masala, salt, pepper and sugar. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway in the cooking process.
2. Meanwhile, divide the spinach onto the two plates. Mix the dressing ingredients together, and season to taste.
3. Remove the butternut squash from the oven. Pour even amounts of the dressing over each plate, top with the butternut squash, sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts and top with the soft goat’s cheese. Serve with a little cracked black pepper.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recipe: Blue Cheese and Spinach Creamy Farfalle

Back from holiday at last! I mentioned on earlier posts that I was heading off to Nice (the south of France) for a few days on holiday. Well because of that Icelandic Volcano eruption it turned into a bit of a strange French adventure, but never mind. Shall give you a full report of it later once i get my bearings.

This is a nice and basic creamy pasta dish that i made the evening before flying off. I used a local blue cheese (from Devon) for this. It works well with other green vegetables, like broccoli, kale, or chard, but it's nice to use spinach, as it is in season right now.

Blue cheese and spinach creamy Farfalle (serves 2)   £1.43 per portion

200g dried farfalle
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Knob of butter
100g young leaf (or baby) spinach
2 cloves garlic, crushed
300ml double cream
50g blue cheese
½ tsp dried tarragon
Plenty of cracked black pepper

1. Boil a pan of water and cook the farfalle to packet instructions (usually takes about 12 minutes, make sure the pasta is al dente as it will be returned to the sauce).
2. Meanwhile, sauté the spinach and garlic in the olive oil and butter for about 3 minutes, or until the spinach is nice and wilted. Add the cream, crumble in the blue cheese and add the tarragon, season, and cook on a low heat, stirring frequently until the pasta is ready.
3. Drain the pasta, mix into the sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the sauce is well coated, thick, and the pasta is fully cooked. Serve with some extra ground black pepper on top.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Recipe: Lamb and Rosemary Suet Pudding

You have no idea how much this recipe excites me. Maybe a little bit sad, that as a 19 year old i can get so enthusiastic about a suet pudding! This is the first time i've made suet pastry. I suppose older generations would have had their parent's make plenty of steak and kidney puds for them when they were little- But growing up with vegetarian parents never experienced any of that.

I don't often make pastry either. But this recipe was so delicious and the pastry is a wonderful consistency- not soggy atall. The recipe looks complicated but it's easier than it sounds. I tried to make it as easier for other people to copy, but obviousely its the kinda recipe that you have to think 'it feels' or 'looks' right. The first picture is of the pie before i covered it in foil and chucked it in the oven. Second picture is when i've served it.

Pictures arent that amazing but im so proud of my pud! Good with gravy , spuds and green veg.

Lamb and Rosemary Suet Pudding (serves 4) £1.77 per portion (with 80g cooked frozen broccoli + instant gravy per person)

For the filling
2 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, diced
1 stem rosemary, stalked and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250-300g diced lean lamb (meat from the leg is best)
1 tbsp flour, seasoned (salt and pepper)
1 stem rosemary, stalked and finely chopped
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
200ml red wine
2 bay leaves

For the pastry
225g self raising flour (sieved)
100g beef suet
1 tsp baking powder
2 stems rosemary, stalked and finely chopped
Salt and pepper to season
Cold water to mix (around 100ml-ish)

1. On a medium heat, sweat the onions, garlic and rosemary in the olive oil for 5 minutes, or until soft. Set aside.
2. Put the seasoned flour and rosemary and mix into the lamb, so that the meat is well coated. In the same pan used for the onions, add a little more oil and the lamb. Cook for 5 minutes or until the lamb is browned.
3. Add the redcurrant jelly and stir until melted. Add the reserved onions, wine and bay leaves, and cook on a low heat for 40 minutes. Leave to cool (overnight if possible- this helps the flavour get into the lamb).
4. Mix the self raising flour, baking powder, rosemary and seasoning in a bowl. Add cold water gradually (couple of tbsp per time) and mix until you have a ball of dough that isn’t too crumbly.
5. Heat the oven to 180C (I use a fan oven, other oven temperatures may vary)
6. Cut a quarter out of the pastry (for the lid). Roll ¾ of the pasty on a floured surface until thin (not sure about measurement totally, about ½ a centimetre). Cut into a circular shape and place into a buttered Pyrex dish.
7. Pour the lamb mixture into the pastry. Roll out the ¼ of the pastry on a floured surface thinly, cut into a circle and place on top, pressing all the edges to seal the pudding.
8. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper (that’s rubbed with butter!) on top of the pudding, and wrap a double layer of tin foil tight around the Pyrex dish. Place in a roasting tray (used kinda like a bain-marie) filled with water and place in the oven. Cook for 1hr and 30 minutes.
9. Remove from the bain-marie. Remove the tin foil and greaseproof and put back in the oven and cook for 10 minutes (this is to help the pastry to go crisp and stop sogginess). Serve!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recipe: Chestnut and Aduki Bean Casserole

Yum Yum Yum. I love chestnuts. My love affair with them began with the marron glace (sugared chestnuts) that i was only allowed as a Christmas treat as they were rather expensive. My mum's fantastic chestnut nut roast only came out at Christmas as well. I remember fondly the bag of roasted chesnuts keeping my hands warm, whilst enjoying a freezing January romantic stroll with Nick in Venice. My parents are building a villa in Crete, and last time they were over there they came accross a "Chestnut Festival". Didn't realise it but the northern part of Crete is utterly dedicated to the growing and importing of chestnuts. Anyway, this is a rather fab casserole I have here, and if you can't find aduki beans, kidney beans work just as well.

Chestnut and Aduki bean casserole (serves 4) £1.82

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 knob butter
1 red onion, chopped
2 leeks, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
200ml red wine
1 sprig rosemary, stalked and chopped
½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp paprika
2 bay leaves
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tin Aduki beans, drained
250g cooked chestnuts, whole
Handful fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil and butter and cook the onion, leeks, garlic and carrots for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the red wine, herbs and spices, and cook for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, stock, soy sauce and beans and cook with the lid on for 20 minutes.
3. Heat the oven to 180C. Remove lid, add the chestnuts and cook for a further 15 minutes. Transfer mixture into a casserole dish (covered ) and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Recipe: Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is my mum's favourite tapas dish. I suppose my parent's are slightly limited in tapas joints because they are veggie (and i mean REAL veggie- not "pescetarians") but i reckon it is one of my favourites too. I've been trying to recreate an authetic flavoured recipe for a while, and i think discovering a fab spice- smoked paprika- has helped me to achieve this. The dish is difficult in terms of timings, with keeping both elements of the dish hot. If i was doing it for a tapas dinner party, i would make it, then put it into seperate containers and then microwave them for a few secs to heat up entirely- then garnish and serve.

Also, this recipe was published in local magazine, Pukka Bath!

Patatas Bravas (serves 3 as a main dish, serves 6 as a tapas dish) 72p as a main, 36p as a side dish

1kg potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (I use red rooster potatoes)
Vegetable oil
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp Italian herb seasoning (a mixture of oregano, thyme and basil)
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar
1 tbsp double cream and 1tbsp chopped fresh parsley to serve

1. Heat quite a lot of vegetable oil (enough to almost cover the potatoes) in a large sautéing pan (that has a lid). Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes to the pan (you will probably need to do this in batches depending on how big your pan is) and cook with the lid on for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are golden all over and are soft in the middle.
2. When ready, remove potatoes with a slotted spoon, onto a plate covered with kitchen towel. Cover the potatoes with another couple of pieces of kitchen towel- this helps to keep the potatoes warm, to soften them, and to get rid of most of the grease.
3. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes covered. Add the herbs, paprikas, tomatoes and seasoning, and cook for a further 5 minutes, covered. Whilst still hot, blend in a food processor. Season to taste
4. Sprinkle a little salt over the potatoes, and mix. Place in a serving dish, pour over the tomato sauce, garnish with the cream and parsley and serve.

Recipe: Tagliatelli with Coriander Pesto

I love pesto, and recently i've been experimenting with different types. I've got a nice recipe for a rocket pesto around somewhere. Some would say that you can't really call it a pesto, because a pesto in itself should have to be 'basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and oil'. Well, whatever you want to call it, it's lovely. It is nice mixed in with pasta or rice, and also works well as a dip. I served this alongside my tomato and white bean casserole. It generally goes well with Italian, Greek or Spanish dishes.

This recipe, in "twecipe" form (less than 140 characters) was published in a charity recipe book, "Tweet Pie", funded by Belling. Its like a recipe in text speak! Lol! "Coriander Pesto-Blend 50g fresh coriander+50g toasted pine nuts+100ml xtra virgin olive oil+1tsp lemon juice+50g feta+ s+p.Stir into pasta"

Tagliatelli with coriander pesto (serves 4 as a side dish) 51p per portion

50g fresh coriander leaves
50g toasted pine nuts
100ml olive oil
Squeeze lemon juice
50g feta cheese
Salt and pepper
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
300g dried tagliatelli

1. Put all of these ingredients into a food processor. Blend and season to taste.
2. Cook the tagliatelli to packet instructions, making sure it is ‘al dente’ (still with a slight bite to it). Mix the pesto into the pasta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (to give flavour and to help it to mix). Serve

Recipe: Tomato and White Bean Casserole

This is a very tasty dish, i would say with slightly greek flavours to it. I use pretty much half fresh tomatoes and half tinned, due to the fact that even the ripe tomatoes in this country are not juicy enough. If i was in Greece or Italy, or even in parts of France (I am going to Nice soon and am thoroughly looking forward to it- shall have to write a little foodie report) i would use entirely fresh tomatoes- because they are far more flavoursome, fruity, and juicy. I served this with the coriander pesto tagliatelli (recipe on the site) on the side.

Tomato and White Bean Casserole (serves 3) £1.17 per portion

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Knob of butter
1 large white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp mixed herbs
450g fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tin butter beans, drained
1 tin cannelini beans, drained
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
3 tbsp chopped coriander
Salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
2. Cook the white onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter for 5 minutes. Add the mixed herbs and tomatoes, and cook covered for a further 5 minutes.
3. Add all the other ingredients, season to taste, and cook for a further 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
4. Transfer to a casserole pot, cover, and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Recipe: Spiced Lamb with fruity wild rice salad

Hello everyone. I love lamb, I would say it is actually my favourite meat, and what better time than spring in which to eat it! Using cinnamon on the lamb steaks sounds weird but is a particularly delicious way of cooking them. You may notice in the picture i have used roast butternut squash instead of the beetroot- Any root vegetable works with this recipe, but i feel beetroot works the best. A slightly adapted version of this won me a Panasonic camera, in a Delia Online and New Zealand Lamb competition.

Spiced Lamb with fruity wild rice and roast beetroot
(serves 2)

For the Steaks
2 lean lamb leg steaks (around 100g each)
Olive oil
salt and pepper

For the Onion relish
1 red onion
Olive oil
1 tsp sugar

Rice Salad
100g mixed wild rice
50g dried cherries, chopped
50g pistachios, chopped
Handful fresh mint, chopped
½ orange, juiced
¼ lemon, juiced
Splash of white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

Roast Beetroot
400g beetroot, peeled and cubed
1 tsp cumin seeds
Olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 200C. Whilst oven is heating up, start cooking the rice to packet instructions (usually 20-25 minutes) and peel/chop the beetroot.
2. Drain rice and leave to cool. Put beetroot in a roasting tin with cumin seeds, oil and seasoning, and put into the oven, stirring occasionally (takes about 30 minutes)
3. Chop up pistachios, cherries and mint, and add to the rice. Mix the orange and lemon juice with the vinegar and olive oil, season to taste, and pour over the rice.
4. Heat up oil in a frying pan and add sliced red onions, a knob of butter, salt pepper and sugar. Keep cooking until soft and caramelised (to serve hot over the lamb).
5. Rub the lamb steaks on both sides with the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook the lamb steaks on a high heat in a little oil, about 4-5 minutes on each side.
6. Place the steaks on the plate, cover with the onion relish, and serve the rice salad and roast beetroot on the side.