Category Archives: Travel

My Mother taught me everything I know about photography

The only time in my living memory that I know my mother snapped a photo was in 1979. It was with an Instamatic camera on the shore of our summer home in Nova Scotia with my not-yet two-year-old son, Damian. Yet my Mother taught me everything I know about photography.

Grace Berst d’Entremont was an accomplished artist. Graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious and historic Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts – on scholarship – this daughter of Presbyterian medical missionaries only stopped painting a few days before she passed away in 1997. During her lengthy career her works – paintings, murals and interior design – graced private collections, commercial buildings and award winning architectural interiors worldwide.

So how did she teach me everything I know about photography? She taught me to squint.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1965 – I’m 15 years old – and we’re at my first retrospective of impressionist art. I’m 15 years old…it’s Saturday night…why am I at an art museum? I’m looking at a Cezanne landscape. It’s nice.

I’m not complaining – I had learned… Then my mother pulls me back ten feet from the painting. She tells me to squint.

I squint.

The image explodes. The painting’s on fire – the colors shimmer. I’m in the twilight.

I’m in love – with my mother and art.

I get it. It’s not the medium that’s the magic; it’s the eye.

I own several quality cameras. None cost more than US$600. I don’t use filters. I don’t use photo shop.

I use my eyes.

Grace Berst d'Entremont (1912-1997) photo c. 1930
Grace Berst d’Entremont (1912-1997) photo c. 1930

 

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Wagyu Tataki and Japanese Mexican fusion

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta
Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the incomparable 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was guest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

The up-scale design of the restaurant with seating surrounding expansive cooking stations allowed participants at Mikado’s festival cooking demonstration an up front experience of Chef Kawahito’s imaginative preparations. Crispy panko crusted giant shrimp from Mexico’s northwest coast rested on a tartar sauce seasoned with Japanese 7 spice. A personal favorite was fresh-shucked local oysters topped with raw quail egg, caviar and sea urchin.

Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX
Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX

The key to Mexico’s New World Cuisine is pairing local ingredients with international preparations. Wagyu beef is now raised in Durango. Sea urchin is available in the Gulf of California.

Wagyu Tataki is quick to prepare. The tender barely seared beef blends well with the subtle brininess of sea urchin. It’s a beautiful dish for a special meal.

For the home cook, wagyu beef is available at good meat markets. Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. Salmon caviar can serve as a substitute.

ingredients for Wagyu Tataki
ingredients for Wagyu Tataki

Wagyu Tataki – 2 servings or 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 2                               3-ounce Wagyu rib eye steak
  • 2 teaspoons       truffle oil
  • 2 slices                  fresh lime
  • 1/3rd teaspoon    Hawaiian black salt or sea salt
  • 2                                sea urchin tongues or 3 tablespoons salmon caviar
  • 2 tablespoons     Japanese ponzu sauce
  • 1                                  radish thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons         finely diced fresh chives
seared wagyu steaks
seared wagyu steaks

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the sea urchin tongue and set aside.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot – a couple drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate.
  3. Sear the two steaks for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per side. The steak will be rare but not bleeding. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice each steak and arrange on 2 to 4 plates.
  4. Sprinkle half the black salt on each steak and then 1 tablespoon ponzu sauce and juice from 1 lime slice.
  5. Arrange half the sliced sea urchin or caviar over each steak and drizzle each with 1 teaspoon truffle oil.
  6. Garnish with radish slices and fresh chives.

Although this dish is easy to prepare, why not enjoy a vacation in Puerto Vallarta and feast in the full range of New World Cuisine in Mexico’s culinary powerhouse.   A historic seaport, dining on the beach, the warm water of Bahia de Banderas, beautiful hotels and guest houses make Puerto Vallarta a safe and easy choice for the whole family.

Wagyu Tataki
Wagyu Tataki

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa.

More Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

 

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Hellenic News of America

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Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Among the five course festival menu Chef Luis Noriega created for Coco Tropical, the Angus short ribs marinated in a fragrant mixture of sautéed dried peppers, herbs and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and slow braised  was something I never tasted north of the Rio Grande.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco, European capitals to Chef/Professor at leading Mexico culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Guia in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. Recently Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical for the 22nd Festival Gourmet International.

Unlike many culinary festivals, Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta stretches over eleven days with dozens of events among one-time theme dinners and brunches, wine and tequila tastings to daytime cooking classes and lunches with guest chefs throughout the city. Additional participating restaurants offered nightly festival menus created by their sponsored guest chefs.

More than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied. The name of one popular American icon of Tex-Mex food was often cited. The breadth of the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International ranged from Pakistani to Austrian fusion menus.

Yet the festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever evolving New World  cuisine.

Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Restaurant Coco Tropical on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon for years and is a founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. This is not the first time Chef Noriega has teamed with his old friend.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style – 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1-½ pounds Angus beef short ribs
  • 2                                 dry Guajillo chili peppers
  • 2                                 dry Ancho chili peppers
  • 1/2                                     medium white onion diced
  • 2 medium             ripe tomatoes diced
  • 2                                garlic cloves diced
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon      ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cinnamon – preferably fresh ground stick
  • 1 tablespoon      fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch                  dry thyme
  • 1 pinch                  dry marjoram
  • zest from one    medium naval orange
  • 2 each                    hojas de (leaves of) aquacate & guayaba (at Latino food markets)
  • 1/4th cup              apple cider vinegar
  • 2 each                    large fresh banana leaves (at Latino food markets)
  • or
  • 1                               12” X 18” sheet of parchment paper
  • 24 ounces diced fresh yellow sweet potatoes (not yams)
  • 3 tablespoons     sugar
  • 7 tablespoons     fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 7 tablespoons     sour cream
  • pinch          freshly grated nutmeg
Angus short ribs
Angus short ribs

Preparation:

  1. Wearing gloves, remove the veins from the chilies and as many of the seeds you wish – they contain much heat – and sauté in a hot cast iron pan with one tablespoon oil for 5+ minutes. Add the onions and saute 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook additional 2 minutes. dsc06456
  2. Remove pan from the heat and add one cup boiling water – slowly or else it’ll splatter on you. Add the leaves, if available, and soak for 20 minutes.
  3. In a dry small hot cast iron pan quickly toast the ground spices and orange zest stirring constantly for a minutes or until fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  4. dsc06470In a blender add the vinegar, chilies, soaking water, toasted spices and dry  herbs. Blend until liquefied. Transfer to a small saucepan and, over medium-low heat, simmer until reduced to a sauce.
  5. dsc06472In a very hot cast iron pan brushed with just a touch of olive oil sear the Angus beef on both sides for two minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and brush both sides liberally with the chili sauce.
  7. dsc06480Line a baking dish large enough for the beef with the banana leaves or parchment paper and fold the leaves over encasing the short ribs. dsc06478
  8. Cover and bake in a pre-heated 240° Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours.
  9. During the last hour gently simmer the diced sweet potatoes with the orange juice, sugar and 1 cup cold water in a sauce pan for 30 to 40 minutes until fork tender. Mash along with the sour cream. Serve with slices of beef.vade-vinos

The dish was superbly paired with a Spanish petit verdot imported by Va de Vinos. This new import company is quickly adding to Mexico’s reputation for embracing fine wines. The deep berries of the petit verdot melded with the rich natural sauce of the braised beef.

Keep in mind, this was a major international festival, but Puerto Vallarta’s culinary scene is smoking every day.

 

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

spice mix
spice mix

 

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Hellenic News of America

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River pirates are the reason

“We had to hide from the river pirates,” Mom said in the darkness. The lights were out as this was a bedtime story, and I was four years old.

“From the pirates?” If the lights had been on she could have seen my eyes open as wide as the full moon.

“Yes, we hid under the wooden bunks and couldn’t talk all night long. Even the kerosene lamps were out. We had to be invisible.”

My mind tried to conjure an image of the Yangtze circa 1920 from the black and white photos I looked at frequently that my grandparents had taken of their many trips on this legendary river. My young mind could see the steep banks shrouded in mist and trees tumbling down to the shore and imagine the junk pulled into a cove hidden from the marauding pirates. Yet I couldn’t get an image of Chinese pirates, only the ones from my comic books, which I knew weren’t Chinese because I didn’t think they had parrots in China.

“But they didn’t find you, right?” I was pretty sure they hadn’t because Mom was right here in my room and pirates made people walk the plank.

“No, they didn’t, and we continued to Kuling in the morning.”

“But why were they being pirates?” I asked because I knew pirates always wanted doubloons and rum, whatever they were, and I didn’t think China had those.

There was a long pause from my Mom. I thought maybe she wanted to end the story since I was supposed to be getting sleepy not excited. Yet her voice , not mine, sounded weary.  “Because they were hungry. They wanted food. They knew boats with foreigners would have food.”

I had heard that before. (“Eat your lima beans!” I hated lima beans. “The children in China are starving.”) So I knew that was true. For you see, my Mom wasn’t making this story up. It wasn’t fiction.

My grandparents c.1930s in China (far left) Dr. & Mrs. William Berst.
My grandparents c.1930s in China (far left) Dr. & Mrs. William Berst.

The daughter of American medical missionaries, my Mother was born and lived until she was 13 in Changde, a city a thousand miles up the Yangtze River. My grandparents  worked and lived in China for most of the first half of the 20th century until being ejected by the retreating Japanese in 1945. My bedtime stories were not fiction; I grew up hearing first hand what it was like being a foreign child in China during its turbulent years after the 1912 Revolution – the year of my Mother’s birth.

I grew up with images in direct contrast to the bucolic beauty and calm of Pennsylvania’s historic Bucks County circa 1950s.

Then there were the Nova Scotia stories from my father on other nights. Stories of my family sailing from France in 1650, settling that rocky coastline and still living in the same fishing village I visited every summer. I have a pair of ice skates my father strapped onto his boots to traverse the frozen harbor when he was a boy.

First hand stories were the sparks that inflamed my mind with a desire that turned into passion and finally a career as an international travel journalist. Once I could read I devoured books on geography and history, poured over maps, paged through every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia multiple times and read National Geographic magazines as if they were comic books.

Once out of high school there was never anxiety as I went off to universities far from home in the USA, Canada and Ireland. If my Mom could survive river pirates, I could navigate hostels backpacking in Europe. If my father’s family could cross the Atlantic in 1650, I could move to the Caribbean for a decade working as a teacher, chef, writer and father children who, like my parents, where born into a language different than my native tongue.

Dozens of countries and many jobs, hundreds of published articles and thousands of photos, it’s the pirates that still haunt me. Why were they hungry? Why were they at war? I need to know, and I don’t want to hide.

Other travel writers can marvel at the newest luxury hotel and discover the next trendy beach scene. What drives me is discovering the “why” within the destination. Why does the land take this shape? Why does the food have this taste? Why did that cooking method develop? Why is that festival so important to their identity as a people?

Without that drive to discover “why” why go.

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

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Awaken your senses at the French House Party

Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City
Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City

The nearby medieval city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls, but at the Domaine St. Raymond,  small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for residential workshops at a house party in southern France’s Languedoc.

Domaine St. Raymond
Domaine St. Raymond
sunflowers blowing in the wind
sunflowers blowing in the wind

Domaine St. Raymond, home of the French House Party,  sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive four to seven day creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc ranging from culinary adventures with Michelin starred chefs, literature and graphic arts to song writing.

Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer
Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer

“I’m not sure if I really know how to write a song” is not what a guest at a songwriting workshop would expect to hear from an acclaimed New York writer/performer. But the creative process is nebulous.

Dean Friedman
Dean Friedman

Just like in a good ballad, disaster fell for Dean Friedman in the 1980s when  England banned the delightful “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl” in the 1980s because it mentioned a brand name and therefore was deemed akin to an advertorial.

Please go to my travel column in the Hellenic News of America to read all about the French House Party’s creative workshops.

Being creative at the French House Party

 

 

 

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The best Greek shrimp recipe ever

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp

The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos ­– are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it’s no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day’s drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.

The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
Ouranoupolis
Ouranoupolis

The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman’s town.

pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel
pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel

The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki’s resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover’s supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings

Ingredients:

clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
  • 1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Preparation:

Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
  2. Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
  3. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
  4. Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute.
  5. With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
  6. To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
  7. Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
  8. Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
  9. Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.

While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don’t pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop ­selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don’t be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.

When you go:

Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.

Alexandros Palace Hotel, Ouranoupolis, 63075, Halkidiki, Greece. (Athos) Tel + 30 23770 31402 / 31424 Fax: +30 23770 31100

Email: info@alexandroshotel-halkidiki.com 2017 season runs April through mid-October.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Alexandros Palace Hotel and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel
the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

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Florida sunsets at Clearwater Beach

sunset at Pier 60
sunset at Pier 60

img_4607Clearwater Beach is one of a series of beautiful barrier island towns that stretch along Florida’s Pinellas County Gulf of Mexico coast. Blessed with powder white sand it’s a favored playground for tourist worldwide.

 

Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach

At dusk throngs gather at Pier 60 to enjoy a typically stunning sunset that for residents is one of the perks of living along the Gulf of Mexico. Pier 60 juts over 1,000 feet into the Gulf. In the daytime it’s a popular fishing pier.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach
Sunset at Clearwater Beach
vendor on Pier 60
vendor on Pier 60

But after 5:00 p.m. it transforms into a free sunset party complete with buskers, musicians and vendors selling a myriad of arts and crafts.

 

 

Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach

After sunset walk over to Pier House 60 Hotel and take the elevator to the 10th floor. Jimmy’s Crows Nest Bar & Grill offers  panoramic views of Clearwater Beach that at night are particularly impressive along with great burgers and drinks.

Florida, the Sunshine State, can just as easily be dubbed the Sunset State after spending an evening on Clearwater Beach.

Night view of Clearwater Beach from Jimmy's
Night view of Clearwater Beach Marina from Jimmy’s

 

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Hellenic News of America

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Before I die: expressing aspirations in Saint Petersburg, Florida

Before I Die

I dislike the term bucket list. I especially dislike it when it’s attached to travel. Adventure and exploration should be the impetus for travel, not checking off a predetermined list of must-see destinations.

Yet when it comes to life, reflecting on one’s innermost aspirations is healthy. How often do we express, especially to ourselves, “No, I can’t do that.” I’m not capable, talented, have no time, I’m afraid.

live

That’s the thought behind Saint Petersburg’s “Before I die…” wall located at 1049 Central Avenue in the heart of the Grand Central Arts District. A safe place to publicly express our aspirations shares a street bustling with cafes, art galleries and murals created by some of the city’s most talented artists.

 

figure this life out
figure this life out
sing
sing
get a passport and use it
get a passport and use it

A plastic bag of large colored chalk is available for all to use. The Before I die wall project started in New Orleans several years ago and has grown in popularity. I found it challenging, which sounds odd for a professional writer.

I also found reading the wall profoundly moving. I didn’t want to leave. I felt inspired and humbled by the aspirations of others in a way no bucket list blog ever achieved.

be the person my children aspire to be
be the person my children aspire to be

Saint Petersburg has been undergoing a major revival ever since the late 1990s despite the 2007 recession. Sprawling neighborhoods that radiated from a once decaying downtown were inconsequential to the trend towards the urban renewal of the 1960s-1980s, which often resulted in the destruction of low-rise residential and commercial streets. In the past decade a steady influx of young professionals with families, artists and entrepreneurs have found a treasure trove of Craftsman and art deco housing and sturdy commercial structures.

img_9499

img_3415

In an enviable partnership between business owners and artists – some who got their start defacing decaying buildings with graffiti – vast walls have been transformed into stunning murals.

dusk0265

iavg3375

The nearly 50 murals decorate walls in Saint Petersburg’s seven arts districts. And they’re not defaced. Provide a neighborhood with beauty and it will be respected.

make friends rich

Perhaps the greatest of human aspirations, when given a chance, is simply to be good.

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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An easy recipe for Greek Spanakopita

Chef Marc d'Entremont's Greek Spanakopita
Chef Marc d’Entremont’s Greek Spanakopita

I’ve made Spanakopita most of my life. As a chef it’s been part of my repertoire my entire career. It’s flavorful, a classic vegetarian dish and easy once you become familiar using phyllo dough.

In North America phyllo is found in the freezer section of many grocery stores. (Making the same paper thin dough at home requires skill and helpers). Once you’re familiar handling phyllo its versatility is amazing.

I have wrapped anything and everything into attractive phyllo packets especially for hot hor d’oeuvres. They have graced many a buffet and cocktail party. Yet it wasn’t until I started traveling to Greece that I discovered not all phyllo is paper thin and difficult to prepare.

Flora and Nikos Kratzeskaros have operated Tsikali Taverna
Flora and Nikos Kratzeskaros have operated Tsikali Taverna

The village of Vathi on the Cycladic Island of Sifnos is a classic beauty. The winding road descends from the hills and one’s first glimpse is the gleaming white buildings clustered in a crescent on a white sand beach in front of the clear aqua water of the Aegean. Cars are parked at the entrance to the village because there’s nowhere else to drive. The few narrow streets – more stone paths than roads – were made for goats and donkeys.

After passing through the 17th century Church of Evangelistria Taxiarches, which creates part of the seawall, you walk a short distance on the beach to a grove of trees shading Tsikali Taverna. Nearly as many tables are directly on the sand as under the roof of the open-air restaurant. Flora and Nikos Kratzeskaros have operated Tsikali Taverna for decades.

Knowing that a chef culinary journalist was visiting that day Flora demonstrated how easy it was to make phyllo dough that isn’t the paper thin variation. Except for many dessert pastries, Greeks don’t use the paper thin sheets familiar to me. For savory dishes they roll fresh dough to the thickness of a thin pizza crust.

Flora Kratzeskaros rolling phyllo & wrapping Spanakopita
Flora Kratzeskaros rolling phyllo & wrapping Spanakopita

I developed this variation on classic Spanakopita decades ago and have used it my entire career. It calls for the frozen dough familiar to most outside of Greece, but you can certainly substitute this New York Times recipe for the dough Flora Kratzeskaros taught me.

Feta & cottage cheeses
Feta & cottage cheeses

I add cottage cheese along with feta because I like the mix. Sometimes I include a couple tablespoons of toasted pine nuts and a grating of fresh nutmeg. All are ingredients traditional to Greece and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine therefore as authentic as any dish can be that has existed for thousands of years and is part of several regional cuisines.

Spanakopita – 6 entrée portions

Ingredients:

  • 1/3rd pound defrosted phyllo dough
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup diced sweet onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach or 20 ounces of loose frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 cups crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 5 eggs

Procedure:

  1. Defrost filo dough still wrapped for 24 hours in the refrigerator. DO NOT unwrap until instructed in step #8.
  2. chopped cooked spinach pressed dry & sauteed onions w/pine nuts
    chopped cooked spinach pressed dry & sauteed onions w/pine nuts

    If using frozen spinach: remove from the bag and place in a colander over a bowl large enough to fit the colander. Thaw the spinach for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Discard the collected spinach water or reserve for other uses. Place the spinach in a large square of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as possible.

  3. If using fresh spinach: remove the stems and chop the leaves. Rinse in a colander and place in a large pot. Cover the pot and steam, stirring several times, until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Place the spinach in a large square of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as possible.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°
  5. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan and add the onions, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Sauté until lightly browned.
  6. In a large mixing bowl combine onion, spinach, feta cheese, cottage cheese and eggs.
  7. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small pan.
  8. thawed phyllo arranged in flan pan
    thawed phyllo arranged in flan pan

    Remove the thawed phyllo from its wrapping and unfold onto a kitchen towel or waxed paper. Cover immediately with a slightly damp kitchen towel (phyllo dries and crumbles quickly when exposed to dry air).

  9. Brush the bottom and sides of a deep pie or flan pan (10” X 2”) lightly with butter.
  10. Spanakopita ready for baking
    Spanakopita ready for baking

    Arrange 8 sheets of phyllo overlapping in a circular pattern. The phyllo will larger than the diameter of the pan. (cover the remaining phyllo with the damp towel) Brush the phyllo with half of the remaining melted butter. Spread the spinach mixture into the pan and overlap the phyllo over the spinach one piece at a time. Gently press the phyllo onto the spinach and with a serrated knife score the phyllo into 6 wedges – do not cut through the spinach – this makes it easier to serve without the flakey dough breaking apart after baking. Brush the top with the remaining butter. (Wrap the remaining phyllo dough in waxed paper and then in aluminum foil sealing well. You can place that in a plastic bag. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks for later use.)

  11. Place the dish on a sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the phyllo is light golden brown. Allow the Spanakopita to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

A 9” X 13” cake pan can be used for the Spanakopita and it can be scored into smaller portions to be served as a first course.

Flora Kratzeskaros's Spanakopita with fresh phyllo dough
Flora Kratzeskaros’s Spanakopita with fresh phyllo dough

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Recipe for a Spanish inspired salt cod stew

Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia
Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia

I was a boy when I first became familiar with salt codfish. Racks of salted fillets would line the docks of our ancestral Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy village where my parents maintained a home. I loved sautéed Acadian cod cakes made with potatoes and the salty fish served with pickled chow chow.

fillets of salt cod before soaking
fillets of salt cod before soaking

Salting cod is at least 500 years old and became a staple food product and cash crop for Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Northern Europe and the Caribbean Islands. I grew up on stories of the infamous triangular trade route before I knew its full implications. The stories were romance for my early wanderlust as generations of my family caught, salted and transported this easily preserved fish to hot Caribbean islands in return for the dark rum and molasses that would warm my relatives during cold, wet Maritime winters.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

While living in Puerto Rico as a young adult I immediately recognized the wooden boxes of salt cod marked with Canadian port towns I was familiar. Nothing had changed for centuries, except being introduced to the breadth of recipes this simple fish had inspired. Light fritters of salt cod – bacalaítos – became a favored comfort food.

Some years later traveling in Basque Country I enjoyed Bacalao a la Vizcaina, their codfish stew including hard-boiled eggs, capers and raisins. In France I scarfed down copious amounts of rich, elegant Brandade de Morue, a whipped spread with olive oil, cream and potatoes on crusty baguette slices.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

As a chef I’ve often played with salt cod. With the worldwide decline of cod stocks due to over fishing salted pollock is a suitable substitute available in North American stores. I feel my recipe for a salt cod stew appeals to most North American tastes.

Salt Cod Stew – 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound salt cod prepared 2 days ahead of using
  • 3 cups prepared or canned, drained & rinsed garbanzo beans
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 4 ribs celery
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 scallions – green & white part.
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup chopped green olives
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 – 28 ounce can diced stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 baking potatoes
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Preparation:

(Two days before making the stew)

  1. Place the salt cod in a stainless steel or glass dish large enough to completely cover with cold water. Refrigerate the cod changing the water 2 to 3 times a day for two days.
  2. prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)
    prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)

    If using dried garbanzo beans start their preparation the same day as the cod. Cover ½ pound dried garbanzo beans with 2 quarts cold water. Cover and soak for at least 12 and up to 18 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Place into a heavy 2-quart pot and cover with two quarts cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. The water should simmer not boil or else the beans may break up. Check after one hour. The beans should be tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse. Refrigerate until ready to use.

(Cooking the stew)

  1. Drain the cod and pat dry with paper towel. Slice the cod fillets into chunks about 1 to 1-½ inch squares.
  2. Dice the sweet onion, celery, green pepper, scallions and garlic.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat slightly and add the green pepper, scallions, basil and oregano. Continue cooking for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  4. Increase the heat and add the salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, cod chunks, chopped green olives, the entire can of diced tomatoes and the 2 cups of cold water.
  5. Bring the stew to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.
  6. While the stew is simmering, peel and dice the potatoes. Place the diced potatoes in a bowl & cover with cold water to prevent browning until ready to use.
  7. After 45 minutes of simmering the stew, drain and add the diced potatoes and the prepared or canned and drained garbanzo beans.
  8. Return to a simmer. Taste test the stew to check for salt and add more if desired. Cover and simmer the stew for an additional 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  9. Ladle into bowels and sprinkle with chopped parsley. You may spice it up with hot sauce to taste.

Like with so many stews, you can make this a day ahead of time. Allow the stew to cool for an hour and refrigerate. Gently reheat before serving.

This stew is excellent accompanied with a green salad and a good dry wine such as a Spanish rioja.

My Spanish inspired salt cod stew
My Spanish inspired salt cod stew

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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