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Madrid – an affair to remember

Ah Spain, how lovely our first meeting was. I loved so much arriving in sunny Madrid to a nice hotel, H10 in the centre of town with big large windows overlooking the old style apartments across the street.

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I was so hungry after getting off the plane though that we needed to feed me straight away. Lucky you had a plethora of bars along our street that we were able to enjoy some tapas and a bottle of wine at 4pm, and OMG what great tapas they were. If the flavours from this first manchego and jamon iberico plate is anything to go by, we will do just fine together.

…..and it was sooo fine!

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The rest of our first day we spent walking through the large central park, contemplating whether to hire a row boat in the middle of the lake (although it was now so balmy and almost uncomfortable in the sun).

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We decided to find shelter in the streets near our hotel which, I was so happy to discover, were full of shops. No shopping yet I was told. Another thing we discovered was a gluten free bakery. A WHOLE BAKERY dedicated to the gluten intolerant. It was called Celicioso – Like Delicioso and Coeliac (well Spanish spelling). Closed now but definitely a place we were to return the next day.

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We rested in the afternoon and ended up napping for 3 hrs due to the jet lag flying from Peru to Spain and the 7hr time difference we had to make up. Dinner was just there to cure our cravings of meat since we had not had much ‘steak’ in Peru. So it was a boring steak place, but we promised ourselves we would be m ore authentic going forward.
What did surprise us though was that Madrid was always buzzing. When we left the restaurant at midnight people were still walking the street, eating, drinking, walking their dogs. It is almost a city that does not sleep. I was falling in love already. I kind of imagine this to be a mini New York if you add lots and lots of European culture and super old buildings, Maybe???

Our first/and last full day in Madrid (we only had a short 2 nights together) we decided to hit up the gluten free bakery first to have coffee and I had a nutella alfajore (shortbread normally with dulce de leche inside but instead nutella). AMAZING, does not crumble at the slightest touch + coffee = a happy Trish. Not wanting to spoil my appetite for the food markets I restrained myself and we left. We walked the streets towards the food markets and as Chris pulled me along I was writing a mental list of shops I wanted to visit.

The food markets are called Mercado de San Miguel and are near the central Plaza. On the way there we stopped at the Museo de Jamon “Museum of Ham”. Wow red red red everywhere. Jamons hanging left, right and centre. The bar in the centre had queues lining up just of people wanting to have a small tapas plate or a jamon bocadillo “sandwich” from this institution.

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We kept walking remembering the prize at the markets, a much larger selection of foods and highly recommended by my food mentor Andrew, so if Andrew said it was good, it was GOOD. He did not disappoint. MY eyes were like I was seeing 100 shooting stars. I could not control where I was looking as there was too much to see, too much to smell, where do I start????

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This was mainly for the tourists due to the expensive prices but also sold fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for the locals who wanted to spend a little bit more. It reminds me of what David Jones food hall is but much more interactive with the people and just better (full stop).

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We settled on more jamon iberico, aged manchego, wine and chicken croquettes. The jamon was strong and oily full of flavour rich fat; the manchego brittle, dark and nutty; the croquettes creamy, crunchy and ‘taste like chicken’. Sad but true we were full from jam and cheese, again, but still have weeks left to discover more dishes, plus I had just spotted mini ice cream cones that I found room for, and a flavour I had never seen before lemon sorbet with shards of chocolate through it. Someone in Sydney should be making this as it is perfect for all those people who feel like chocolate but need something refreshing instead and cannot decide.

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We then walked through the city, past the parliament, main church and back to the hotel with a little bit of shopping included. Well rested we set off to another recommendation “El Tempranillo” a little bar close to the food markets on the other side of the main plaza. We walked through peak hour of people on the streets and after a few wrong turns, dress ups and seeing a naked man on a hotel balcony, we made it to El Tempranillo lucky to nab the last table. All of a sudden groups arrived wanting tables with none available for a while and we thanked our lucky stars we had timed it right.

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The service was interesting as the waiter did not seem to care if we were sitting there or not. After a while we got some chunky cured chorizo as an appetiser. The globules of fat burst in your mouth and woke our tastebuds which were screaming for more….well more would have to wait a bit as the waiter had not even come back to take our order. So we ordered 5 different tapas with the waiter’s recommendations and after some more waiting, they arrived. Maybe us two Sydneyciders are just impatient people but the Spanish seem content everywhere we go, this must show the restaurateurs that fast service does not matter if you have a quality product. It is probably the same theory used when people wait in lines for long periods of time to buy bread, gelato or a pork roll sandwich. Well let me tell you we were not complaining once we took our first bites. We ordered:
– Fried egg, asparagus and chives;
– Grilled vegetables, goats cheese and olive oil;
– Smeared tomato and jamon iberico;
– Foie gras and pear;
– And we forgot the last one but it was just as good as the rest.

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All simple flavours but just done so well. We did not know how to order and probably should have had some larger dishes, but we were so content after this, and 1.5 bottles of wine, no more food was required.
Looking around you could not see the bar any more as it was packed in here like sardines. We decided to leave and give someone else a table, but our dear friend the waiter did not care that we wanted to pay. I must admit for the amount of people in there perhaps more than one waiter should have been on. Well it worked for them, they were turning people away and the crowd was happy so I suppose it probably does not matter to them.

Walking the streets we could not help ourselves when we stumbled upon a churreria “churros house”. Like amateurs we ordered 2 hot chocolates and churros but our neighbours were sharing the one hot chocolate between them. Smart, very smart. We probably had 1/5 of the hot chocolate each as it was the richest little cup of warm chocolate ganache I had ever tasted. Unlike Peru’s first picarones disaster our first churros were not a disaster at all. So so crunchy and with the slight salty flavour it paired so well with our cup of brown glop (I’m sorry chocoholics but it was just that rich I nearly could not have it).

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And this my friends brought Madrid to a halting end, but the “meet-cute” we shared would be the start of my desire to return, and to enjoy a nice affair with one day.

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Peru – Part 2

Day 11. We survived Cusco. That story needs to be explained in person for effect! Back in Lima we had planned to go with Tia Rosa to the Incan Markets in Miraflores which have a lot of crafts and souvenirs, but first lunch. On my hit list was ‘eat at a Cevicheria’ or house of Ceviche and since we have previously had such great experiences at Gaston’s restaurants Panchita, Tanta and La Barra, why not add another to the list, so off to La Mar we went. Taxi’s in Peru are another interesting and new experience for me. They firstly do not have a GPS or even a street directory, nor do they actually need to know where to go BUT the benefit is that you negotiate the price before you go, so regardless of the traffic the price is what was agreed. This is actually good for Lima since the traffic is horrendous. So on this particular day the driver said yes yes yes, but then took a wrong turn. A half an hour journey turned into an hour and with four people stuffed in the back seat, my comfort levels were not very high. We arrived and all I wanted was to sit down at the table, no chance, a table was a 40 minute wait, so wait we did. At least we scored two bar seats after 15 minutes and chowed down on canchita (air dried corn seasoned with salt) and had a few drinks.

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The wait was well worth it! I ordered a plain ceviche with mixed seafood, Chris had ceviche with chicharron, Chris’ sister actually hates all seafood except tuna so she ordered causa, a potato and tuna stack with egg, and then Chris’ mum and Tia Rosa shared a mixed plate of goodies which we all tried to finish without success, it was huge!

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Although we were sufficiently stuffed there would always be room for dessert and it would not be right if we did not order Picarones. I was already disheartened after the last Gaston effort but had to give it the benefit of the doubt that this would be better. It was, they tasted as good and as crunchy as they look.

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So after the diverted taxi ride and long wait I can say that this cevicheria experience was just as flavoursome, colourful and enjoyable as I had hoped, well I finished with a coffee, that may have helped too.

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Absolutely full we hit up the markets buying handicrafts, more blankets, Chris even got some ‘alpaca’ slippers, lets see if they are as good as Aussie UGG once we get back.

A well overdue siesta was necessary before Brisas that evening, a dance performance that showcased many of the traditional dances and costumes from Peru. As most of you know I am an early bird and struggle to stay awake, well God help me, the show started at 10pm and we did not get home until 3:30am! Good effort I think, although the table was looking like a nice bed from about midnight. The dances were incredible as were the costumes. So much colour, detail and varieties for the different regions and styles of dance, most of which I have already forgotten the names.

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Once all the performances were finished it was our turn to get up and dance. I was being taught the Huayno dance which is a stamping dance from the country, looks easy but is so NOT easy. One leg stamps once then the other stamps twice alternatively. After realising that you should not lift your legs too far off the ground I was able to get a bit of rhythm and by the end of the night I got it for about 20 seconds until my legs got tired! Its incredible to see people doing it for countless numbers of songs. Their legs would be getting the best workout, no Gym needed here.

Sleep that night was not to be as I was cooking Sunday lunch for the family. I thought to myself “What is a good Greek dish that is different souvlaki or pita?”. Then it hit me, I could make a Pastitsiou, which is a typical Greek Lasagne, and who best to ask for the recipe than the Queen Pastitsiou maker, my Thea Betty. I have only ever made it once before as I have never needed to, Thea Betty always does. After receiving her recipe I went to the markets in the morning to buy ingredients and start cooking as lunch needed to be ready by 12pm sharp! Papa Raul expects lunch at 12 and I would not want to leave a bad impression.

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Unable to find good rigatoni or tubular pasta, I settled on a fat round pasta that will have to do. The meat was easy although I did not cook with onions as I was going to use some of the meat for a mini gluten free, onion free version for myself. The hard part is definitely the béchamel sauce. Basically you cannot leave the stove until it is done, that is how much you need to stir, stir, stir. Funnily enough I am not a patient person at all, but I am patient with food. I am happy to cook pasta from scratch for 2hrs or prepare bread over 4hrs as I know how good it will be and how happy it makes people. This patience comes from enjoying the process rather than just wanting the finished product. The béchamel needs to be done slowly with only small amounts of milk and egg added each time to allow for a smooth texture and to ensure that all lumps are whisked out of sight. My béchamel might have taken at least 30 minutes to prepare but it tasted heavenly. It’s lucky I am lactose intolerant otherwise I would have eaten far too much from the pot. I assembled the pastitsiou and was ready to bake it in the gas oven.

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I was told earlier that morning when I went to heat the oven that they do not know if it works, Papa Raul and Mama Celes have not used it as long as they can remember, if ever. Eeeek. Well worth the try in my eyes, I still remember the taste that a gas oven gave my Yiayia Eleni’s baked potatoes, there is nothing that ever compared or even reached the level of flavour they had. If this is the effect the gas gave my grandmother, then maybe I would be lucky and my Pastitsiou for Chris’ family would turn out perfect.

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An hour later the top was certainly browned and the edges nice and crispy, and with 15 minutes to spare as the clock ticked 11:45am. I set the table, called the troups and plated up. Sorry, I forgot to get the Inka Kola for the table.

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As I sat there with my gluten free pasta and onion free meat I envied the family who were about to eat the creamy and delectable pastitsiou recipe I prepared, thanks to Thea Betty (although I can say that as I did taste test a small piece and OMG crispy edged , creamy top and rich meaty sauce were heavinly). The response from the family? Well I think Papa Raul summed it up well, he asked me to give him the recipe so Mama Celes could make it for him. We all laughed, I was immensely satisfied and grateful it turned out so well. What better for a Sunday lunch than family, traditional dishes and laughter.

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Day 13 and the cooking classes did not stop as I was lucky enough to learn a dish called Papa Rellena from someone Chris holds dear to his heart, Della. Della used to help out the Alzamora family when they lived in a suburb only around the corner from where they live now called Matute. Christopher lived in Matute when he was 9 years old on his 4 month visit to Peru. He showed me around the ‘residential village’ that was his playground for those months, where he roamed free until the early hours of the morning when he would return and Della would make sure he was washed off before he went to bed. Now Della has a family of her own and lives in that same flat that the Alzamora family used to live in, so my cooking class would take place where Mama Celes used to cook for the family which was a nice feeling.

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I felt so terrible that Della was up since 4am preparing for this dish, which is understandable when we saw how many she was preparing as there were at least 40 large Papa Rellenas (enough for 20 people), some prepared and some waiting for me to practice on.

Basically a Papa Rellena is soft potato stuffed with a meat mixture, almost like an empanada but instead of pastry there is potato. Suits me just fine and for all those out there who are gluten intolerant. So the base is the same as for gnocchi, you boil the potatoes then mash, although Della has mashed each potato into individual balls so they are evenly portioned out. The meat mixture has the standard Peruvian base of garlic, cumin and aji (and for everyone else onion too). Then the side dishes are prepared – sliced boiled egg, olives and raisins, if you like them inside. Once ready to make you flatten a ball of potato in the hand, put two tablespoons of mince inside then add on top some egg, olive and raisin before closing the potato around the filling to form an egg shape.

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Before you fry you lightly cover the outside of the potato with flour then add an egg wash. Fry away until browned evenly and enjoy.

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MMMM so so so good. I cannot wait to make these at home and try new combinations. I am already thinking waygu bolognaise with mozzarella would be one of the first things I would do. YUM. I had to finish both balls but unlike most Peruvians who eat double carbs at every meal, I was fine without rice to accompany my papa rellena, I wanted to enjoy every mouthful without interruptions in my mouth. Plus I needed to leave room for dinner at La Rosa Nautica. Thanking Della we waked home, out of Matute and farewelling many new memories.

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Siesta complete we all got dolled up to go out for dinner. We were lucky that Tio Pedro who works at La Rosa Nautica was to join us for dinner as he is able to get a 50% discount. The prices once converted into Australian dollars is still very cheap but who wouldn’t pass up that offer.

We arrived just at sunset and took photos of the surfers enjoying some ‘colour’ in the sky.

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Once we sat down, the city lit up. Oh no wait, that is just the constantly bad traffic jams.

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Once we started to relax a large BANG that sit the building, a wave, and a common occurrence and the reason Tio Pedro’s wife, Herlinda, did not want to join us as she is too scared of the waves. Chris’ sister and I ordered main dishes – Lomo Saltado and Salmon with aji potatoes respectively – and Chris’ Mum, Tio Pedro and Chris shared a mixed platter of seafood, however that was only entrée for them. For main Tio Pedro had organised a hot seafood plate which included fillets of snapper, squid, prawns scallops and potato.

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I ordered a Malbec from Argentina which we all loved, but too bad, it was the last bottle. Then we moved over to Rioja in Spain and had a Temprinillo which in fact was even better! Chris’ Mum ordered a Chicha cocktail just to be different, and as we can see she enjoyed it very very much!

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How could we pass up dessert? I certainly could not, especially after polishing off every morsel on my plate. Us young gals ordered the chocolate fondant, although one each was probably an oversight, sharing would have been smarter. Chris’ Mum ordered the Lucuma dish expecting ice cream but a tart came out. Tio Pedro had to help her finish it, and also finish Chris’ Apple tart

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I must say that I was sooo impressed with the food and will make the huge statement that it was the best meal I had in Peru, better than all of the Gaston restaurants and better than the food in Cusco. The dishes were simple, not fancy and overdone, but had flavours that jumped out with every bite. I have not finished entire plates of a main and dessert in a very long time, lucky I was wearing black and my top was loose!

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Our last full day in Peru we spent visiting the city centre, something I am told we cannot leave Lima without doing. To be honest the temperature had dropped this day and the sky was still gloomy so I was not thrilled about leaving the nice, cozy, warm house of Mama Celes, but I did not want to regret staying home. The centre reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, touristy, old and once you have seen a bit, you have seen it all. We decided to take a tourist bus to do a loop of the city so that we can see everything the centre has to offer.

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The only problem was we decided to go on the bus at 5pm when the roads were in grid lock, more than normal due to peak hour, and the temperature had dropped due to the sunset, so our outdoor seats were not looking so good. The one hour tour took an hour and a half. We could not get away from the bus quick enough and into a taxi to go and get dinner. What better send off meal than BBQ chicken with the family in a warm restaurant only a short Micro bus ride away from home. Perfect!

Here we said a final goodbye to Tia Rosa. I will miss her smiley face and I know she will miss me trying to translate words into Spanish. For example, she kept joking around one lunch and I tried to say she was ‘cheeky’ which is a harmless playful English word. My dictionary told me to tell her she was ‘descarado’, or even better I wanted to say that she was ‘rude’, but again in a playful way as English would allow. Nope, my dictionary told me to say ‘indecente’. The laughter amongst the family was so loud, I wanted to crawl into a hole for trying, but it was all in good humour. The final miscommunication was when I asked Tia Rosa before dinner whether “Tienes hombre?” Do you have a man?   but what I meant to say was “Tienes hambre” Are you hungry. She replies “No tengo homre o hambre” I don’t have a man and I am not hungry. I know these phrases are going to be joked about with the family for a loooong time to come. At least I got one right as we were saying goodbye “Eres decente” You are a proper and lovely person, a big hug and we were off on the Micro back to Mama Celes’ house.

The day of our flight we packed, had a simple lunch and said our goodbyes. It was so sad as I know that Mama Celes and Papa Raul cherished the visit, cherished the blessing we had at their church and appreciated us coming to celebrate the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. Chris’ Mum was also crying as we would not see her and the rest of the family until Christmas, so it was a sad time for all.

To say I was disappointed to leave is not correct. I was very much looking forward to our travels through Europe, coffee being available at every corner, carrying my camera around my neck to take endless photos and also have alone time with Chris, as we have been busy with family from the time we stepped off the flight at 2am to the time we were to board at 5pm. What I will miss are the people, the generosity, the love and the hospitality. Experiences like this cannot be bought as I was lucky enough to see many different sides of Peru and was able to put on my ‘tourist’ hat in addition to my ‘I’m part of the family’ hat, even ‘hablo terrible espanol’ hat, but I tried. I opened my eyes and saw a part of the world I had never seen before and for that I appreciate my life and how lucky I am so much more.

Now off to spain!


Peru – Part 1

Peru, a place unlike any other I have been before, a place full of extremities and little in between, but a place full of many unique and beautiful experiences.
From when we arrive the love and hospitality was evident. Our plane was an hour late so we flew in at 1:30am, that did not deter Mama Celes who at 87 insisted to meet us at the airport, flowers and hugs ready for our first meeting. The joy on her face spoke the emotions I am sure she had, seeing her Grandson and new wife for the first time after their wedding. The last time Chris had seen Mama Celes was in 2010, but that four year gap was insignificant as he picked up right where he left off.  Papa Raoul waited patiently at home for us to return, again with the same excitement and arms wide open.

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Lots of sleep was necessary due to the large time difference, 15 hours behind Sydney! Day 1 we spend locally,walking around the  suburb, markets and of course to change money from the guy standing on the corner of the intersection with a calculator, I am told this is the completely normal. A simple lunch with the family of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice showcased how flavoursome the ingredients are in Peru, something we are not so exposed to in Sydney with an array of bland flavoured produce. Dinner was test one for me, will I like the infamous Jamon del pais sandwich from the Japanese guy from around the corner. Waiting patiently in line we watched as he used his chopsticks to assemble the roll. Soft white bread rolls are filled with a smear of mustard, chunks of specially cooked pork, a mound of Spanish onions which are almost pickled in lime (lemon) juice, then to finish a slice of fresh aji (chilli). Due to the fact that I cannot eat onions I think there is no point even trying the sandwich as the onions are such a huge component of this sandwich, they add crunch and also the liquidy juices of lime break down the rich meat. I added some more aji verde paste when we got back to the house so that MY sandwich was not as dry and boring……..the verdict, its OK. Chris was horrified as we now cannot share one of his true loves. Test one, fail.

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After our local dinner we decided to head off for a drink and try one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, Panchita. So from one extreme of walking around the local suburb at night, without handbags or cameras just in case we got mugged, we set of for Miraflores, the Double Bay of Lima where a different class of people live. Fancy cars zoomed past, jewellery was out for show and handbags were hanging off all the women. The restaurant was full of chatter, full of laughter and it is obvious that jokes are welcome. We sat up at the bar to have ‘a drink’ and ended up consuming a mixed platter and picarones, how could we not. I did need to try as many traditional Peruvian foods as possible so the mixed plate went without question as it featured Tamale verde, Papa rellena, Chicharron, Choclo y Papates con huancaina, Causa and Anticuchos. Tick, tick, tick, my list instantly got a lot smaller, then add Picarones and I am almost ready to leave after day one. Unfortunately the picarones, which are rinds of sweet potato donut were slightly undercooked. This Greek girl knows a thing of two about donut cooking after cooking many locomathes (greek donuts) in my time. Disappointing but that is ok, I kept dreaming about the tamale verde which were stuffed with cheese that had melted through th already rich corn surroundings. Test two for me was Chicha morada, purple corn juice which in Australia you can really only get in the form of a cordial. Freshly made it normally has a twist of lime (lemon) in it to lift the strong flavour. OH noooo, yuck, eeek not to my taste at all. Chris’  Sister looked on unable to comprehend how I did not enjoy it. Test two, fail.

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We retired that night for to catch up on our sleep until 5am when the phone rang right next to my head, prank calls apparently were common, not a welcome start to my morning. After breakfast we headed over to Lince to visit one of my Mother in law’s friends. Since we did not have a car we decided to catch a micro today, as opposed to a taxi. A micro is a vehicle of any sort like a small van, mini bus, old school bus etc, that locals have painted a route on, drive around without any concern for rules, actually PARDON there are no road rules in Peru at all, and even if there were, no one follows them. These micros are private and basically do not have a timetable. They just race each other around the place to pick up people and fares, so you need to be prepared to jump on and off very quickly so you don’t slow them down. Well we arrived in Lince in one piece but had to be weary on the streets as it is not the safest suburb. People were on the street fighting, many homeless people were trying to sell the little items they could to raise some money too. Suburbs like this do however have their little glimmers of beauty. The apartment we were going to was in an old Spanish building made out of mud brick and still had the original timber staircase up to the first floor. Due to the tremors in Lima the staircase had sunk into the floor so that the treads were no longer at a 90 degree angle, but rather sloping down like mini ramps. As an architect you can admire buildings like this, especially standing on the solid timber balcony overlooking the streets. I wish I had photos but this was a no handbag, no camera type of place. It was even a place that I was nudged to remind me ‘no english’ as we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.

Lunch was a la Mama Celes, Quinoa and queso, a delicious and simple meal with the trio of Peruvian ingredients, garlic, aji and cumin. Tio Augus came to visit and took us to Jockey Plaza for coffee and a sneaky shop. I must say for me this was a little bit of a sanctuary, a place I was comfortable with after being exposed to ‘the reality of Peru’ as Chris’ Mother puts it. It had Zara, which I did enjoy some retail therapy in, and we had a coffee, my first since arriving, and what joy it brought coffee addicted me. Chris ordered Lucuma Ice Cream, another favourite of his. Test number 3. Bah-bow. No go. This was disguising. It was like a rough melon cream that had an odd tart flavour too…..well things aren’t really going to plan to enjoy Peru like Chris does when I dislike every ‘memory food’ he gives me.

Siesta tick, now time to eat again. Dinner was Pollo a la brasa (BBQ Chicken) which is a favourite of Chris and mine, a la Lebanese from Charcoal Kingdom back home, so this was something I was very much looking forward to comparing. The chicken was delicious, skin crispy as required, but what makes the dish is the generally the sauce, today we had yellow spicy aji sauce. Like toum which I can eat by the tubful, this aji sauce would be a welcomed permanent condiment to my fridge, but of course it is very hard to find these sauces in Australia unless you make it yourself with dried aji or aji paste, probably not the same. As you can see from the photo, no one drinks water except me. It is almost as if water is not required in your body, but instead your body cannot survive without Inka Kola. I am so astounded at the amount of sugar Peruvians consume on a daily basis and surprised more do not have diabetes.

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After dinner I met the lovely Tia Rosa who took us to the central park where there is a nightly water and lights show. The light show is projected off water fountains and showcased different cultural dances, all of which I was to see at Brissas, the local dance show. We ran around like kids, playing with the water, ooing and aahing at the colours and tried not to get wet as we followed the processions under the arch of water. What a contrast to suburban streets only two blocks away. Going to the bathroom is an interesting experience too. You pay 50c and get given a wad of toilet paper  to use, and you even get a receipt!

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Day 3 we had a private tour around the city, first stop the statue of The Unknown Soldier which is one of the highest points of Lima perfect for a 360 degree look. It only strengthened the idea of extremities being just streets away. In a suburb called Chorillos there is a hill where people just find space and build a small house. It looks almost like favelas of Brazil and if you move your head slightly to the left we have San Borja which is like the ‘old spanish town’ and a very touristy and pretty area to visit, not a slum at all.

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We then visited the Parke de Amor which is dedicated to love. Love is all around and I think it is impossible to miss the point with a giant statue of two people kissing and an organic wall with seats fully mosaicked in love quotes and names. It is a very beautiful park and adds some colour into the grim and sombre colours of Lima. It occurred to me that there is never sunlight in Lima due to a layer of smog above the city that cannot make it over the Andes. This smog acts like permanent cloud cover and is what I think London looks like for most of the year, grey and dismal.

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Our last stop was La Rosa Nautica, an iconic restaurant that overlooks the sea and I would call it that signature restaurant every city has with the best view in town. It was lucky for us that one of the family’s uncles, Tio Pedro worked there so we went past to say hello, and of course have a drink and snack. The bar has around 48 different piscos and does all kinds of variations on the classic pisco sour. Since we were looking out at the sea we decided to try a small ceviche, another tick off my list. It was perfect in my eyes, fresh and soft fish with the perfect balance of acidity from the lime (lemon) juice and strong chilli. I enjoyed the leche de tigre very much without the need to order it as a separate item off the menu.

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We were picked up for lunch by Tio Augus who due to the culture of long lunches was able to take us out for a couple of hours to try Cuy (guinea pig), another tick off my list. The restaurant/eatery we went to specialised in food from Arequipa which is a country region from the south. The cuy was deep fried and served with choclo, fried potatoes and onion salad, obviously to break down the large proportion of fat in the meat. Once we cut off the head it was not unlike other small animals we are accustomed to such as quail or wild hare, slightly gamey, but some might just say “tastes like chicken”. We then went on a hunt for a café so I could enjoy a coffee after my meal. For a coffee lover like me I am blown away that in a region that contributes so much to the coffee scene of Australia with high quality beans, there is not more café’s or a coffee scene at all, I actually started looking up Starbucks to add to the list of destinations we had daily as I knew there would at least be quality control and would satisfy my needs. I realise this is sad but what do you do when you are used to drinking two long blacks a day?

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Dinner was another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Tanta. A bit more casual than Panchita but no less impressive, and yes we still have to line up for half an hour for a seat. I had a bit of a food coma all afternoon due to so much frita frita frita. Everything is fried here too, so chicken salad for me went down very well! The others of course had to try the Lomo Saltado, as they do in nearly every restaurant, clearly a favourite, unfortunately I cannot have it as it is made with onions and soy sauce and it really would not be possible without these key ingredients, so I get a pass from this test. We were all so full after dinner we had to walk to digest so we walked down to Larco Mar, the big shopping centre on the water in Ritzy Mira Flores. It was funny watching the young line up to enter the night clubs, and it is not an unfamiliar scene to Sydney with girls barely wearing anything, having to change out of ‘normal’ clothes in the bathrooms into their outfits packed in backpacks. Ahhh how glad I am to be married and not go through such a scene.

Day 4 we visited Gamarra, a large central markets which yes was an experience, not all good though. Basically if I knew it was going to be that chaotic, that crazy, that scattered I would have said no, please take me to the shopping centre where people are calm, things are easy to find and there is no chance of getting mugged. For an outsider or someone who is not used to things like that, it is not all fun, especially when my hand was getting squeezed and I was getting nudged left, right and centre as a reminder not to speak English. Yes things were cheap and yes we needed to buy some items ahead of Cusco, but at the end of the day I would be happy to pay more for sanity than go back there and fight the crowds. For those who have not seen it, I would liken it to walking through Town Hall at 11am on Boxing Day to go to the sales in Sydney…. A nightmare.

By the end of the day we planned to get our hair done ahead of the big family lunch tomorrow, but as we arrived at the hairdresser, which you cannot book, we were advised that there were people waiting ahead of us. An hour later we left, another example for me of un-organization, something I am told Peruvians are not famous for, and as a Project Manager, something that is foreign to me.

Day 5 we rose bright an early to prepare for our wedding blessing and lunch with the family. This included doing my own hair and make up as shops do not open until quite late in the morning. Family rolled in from 8am we greeted and took photos with then left for the church around the corner.

church

The ceremony was lovely and our blessing I know was appreciated by all that were there. Back at the house Chris and I even did a first dance and then continued to dance with many family members, like a mini reception. The day was not only for us, it was also the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. We seemed to do things in reverse as we cut a cake at the house then left for lunch at Gaston’s new restaurant La Barra at Casa Moreyra. The restaurant itself, Casa Moreyra is an old Spanish style house which was to be sold only to Gaston or not sold at all, we are told. La Barra or The Bar is like an semi indoor/outdoor space with plenty of natural light and a casual atmosphere about it.

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There was nothing casual about the service though, they were on top of every request we could possibly have had, none more annoying I am sure than the kitchen preparing an individual menu for me without gluten, onion or lactose. I had my own bread which was delicious, stretchy (i.e. did not fall apart like normal gluten free bread) and was actually soft and fresh (not frozen). I also had an individual portion of every dish of the menu as I know the others did not want to share my intolerances with me. Here is the food that we enjoyed on the day.

  LA BIENVENIDA (The Welcome)
Aceitunas olivar de San Isidro, maní acaramelado con curry, aceite de oliva, pan campesino, pan chapla, pan para Celiacos

San Isidro olives, caramelized peanuts with curry powder, olive oil with an assortment of breads

food 1

DEL MAR (From the Sea)
ALMEJAS, chalaca, semillas de tomate confitadas, flores de cilantro

Clams with corn, tomato seeds and coriander flowers

CAUSA, bonito ahumado, aceite de escabeche, mostaza y piel de limón

Causa with cured tuna, pickled olive, mustard and lemon peel

TIRADITO, salsa nikkei, nabo, frejol chino, sésamo blanco, ají limo

Tiradito with salsa Nikkei, turnip, chinese beans, white sesame and lime chilli

CEBICHE, pesca del día, leche de tigre al rocoto, chicharrón de calamari

food 2

DEL CAMPO (From the Country)

SALTADO DE QUINUA, langostinos cristal, verduras crujientes, naranja

Sautee of quinoa, lobster, green vegetable crudités and orange

ALCACHOFAS FRITAS, arvejas, jamón, huevo frito, hojas de menta

Fried artichoke with peas, ham, fried poached egg and mint leaves

food 3.1

DE LA CIUDAD (From the City)

YUCAS ESCABECHE, jamón del país, alcaparras, cebolla, aji y hierba buena

Pickled yuccas with roasted pork, capers, onion and herbed chilli

AEROPUERTO, de pulpo y papada, pecanas, fideos fritos, huevo, frejolito

Stir fry with octopus, pecans, fried noodles and egg

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LAS FUENTES DEL DIA  (Large dishes of the Day)


LOMO SALTADO,

Stir fry of beef with fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes


POLLO ENRROLLADO, de hongos y hierbas, papa huamantanga con crema acida y ajíes dulces

Rolled Chicken with mushrooms, herbs, potatoes with cream and sweet chilli

food 4food 4.5

POSTRES DEL DIA (Desserts of the Day)


TORTA DE LÚCUMA

Lucuma cake, one without gluten or lactose (I am boring, but I was the only one who had a piece so at least everyone else got to taste the real cake, which I was told was delicious. Surprisingly my not so fun cake was soft, flavoursome and also ‘ricisimo’)

 

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We were all so full before we even got to the large plates that we had to take home quite a few doggy bags which we shared around with some of the guests. It was such a great lunch, not only due to the relaxing atmosphere, live music and sunlight streaming in but the great company. For me restaurants like this are quite the norm but for a lot of these people they would not dream to dine like we did. You could see how appreciative and just excited they were. Their faces beamed when we met Astrid, one of the owners of Astrid & Gaston and Casa Moreyra. A lot of the guests raced towards her hoping for a photo which she was more than happy to pose for. She gave us her time and best wishes and was such a pleasure to talk to. Like many of the guests meeting Astrid made my day too.

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We left all with food babies, probably twins, and retired for the rest of the afternoon…..but our rest was short lived as we had to pack for our next adventure, Cusco, which we were to leave bright and early the following day. That is a whole other story!

 


Intermezzo

Last night I was lucky enough to eat at Intermezzo, a restaurant in the historic GPO building. The setting is perfect for so many occasions, lunch times are packed with suits and in summer tables spill out onto the plaza, but at night it becomes dim and spot lit highlighting the historic features of the space like the sandstone walls, enormous mirrors and glass roof.

To start you can sip on a glass of beautiful and crisp Soave, like me, or maybe some Veuve Cliquot like the girls and nibble on some antipasto of cured meats (proscuitto, salami and coppa), sardines, mixed marinated olives, fresh mozzarella, grissini and char grilled bread rubbed with oil. (I forgot to take a photo).

The atmosphere when full buzzes, but when you have good company or something to celebrate time just goes and before you know it an hour has passed and you have forgotten to order your mains. Lucky Chef sent out a little something to wet the palate……succulent scallop wrapped in proscuitto on a gorgonzola sauce. So tender and the sauce was soo incredibly creamy but not piccante, quite mild with just the smallest hint of blue. As Samantha said, and rightly so “this sauce is so good I could eat a whole bowl of it”, and then I directed her downstairs to the cheese room where they serve cheese fondue!

Our drinks disappeared too quickly  and a suitable bottle had to be chosen. Without previously discussing it I suggested a region that I love and that I was craving, to my surprise it was the one Italian red both girls knew and also enjoyed. So that bottle of 08 Cianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli came streaming into our big wine glasses. Swirl, sniff, taste. Perfecto!

It was now time to cleanse out palate before mains. Out came 2 sorbets which brought back childhood memories for all of us sitting on a summers day sucking on frosty fruits. The flavours were so intense pineapple and mixed berry but the baby basil leaves add that very much needed savoury note. Great combinations and we all slurped this dish up very quickly.

Mains look delectable as they are served. Kelly was first with her Crispy Skin Snapper on creamed peas with sauteed shrooms. She insisted it was amazing and the mushrooms are to die for, clearly they aren’t just your standard button mushroom but a mixture of all shapes and sizes, the way it should be.

My Barramundi, mussels, tomato and spinach cooked in a bag with white wine was very delicate and light. A great choice for those long dinners when you know you will be having many courses. The fish was perfectly cooked but you can’t get over the intense flavour of the mussels which perked up the mild taste of the barra.

Finally, the most beautiful dish……Samantha’s Scampi Linguine. The looks did not deceive and she finished every last bit, hailing the chef and announcing it was the best scampi she has ever ever had. She insisted us all taste this scampi and it was outstanding. Sweet with a soft tender texture.

All starting to get full, but of course know what is coming our way. The room starts to empty and luckily so as the wine is kicking in and our conversation starts to get a little rowdier with uncontrollable laughter happining a lot more frequently now. Come on, 3 girls, a lot of wine and a birthday to celebrate, how do you expect us to act?

Only one thing shuts us up……..the presentation of dessert!

So stunning. Caramelized apple tart with candied figs and apple mint ice cream.


But my favourite is the sweet ricotta canolli. At the sight of this I tell my stomach it is going to have to cope with a chunk of gluten as this opportunity cannot be passed up…..and does it disappoint? Not at all! Just as good as Papa’s in Haberfield, and a lot less packed!!!

We stroll out of there at 10:30pm and decide the night is not over but a post dinner cocktail is in order so Prime happily accommodated our presence and soon we were sipping on espresso martinis and caprioska’s.

Kelly was completely over the moon and delighted to have spent the last few hours of her 23rd year with her sister, Samantha and I. The staff were fantastic and the food was outstanding. What a perfect atmosphere and location full of history for us two architects. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Intermezzo

No. 1 Martin Place

(street level)

Lunch: Monday to Friday – 12pm to 3pm

Dinner: Monday to Saturday – 6pm to 10pm

9229 7788


Truffle dinner party

I was so surprised when my colleagues at GPO gave me my birthday present…..a HUGE black truffle from WA. Wow my own truffle. I could just imagine how much this was worth and already dishes were flashing in my mind of what I could do with this piece of gold.

I knew I had to make time that weekend, in between all the birthday celebrations to cook and use it all up. There was no delay, I knew exactly who I wanted to share my present with…..a few friends who I have met over the past couple of years. One is Assistant Sommelier at Rockpool B&G who I met working at a ‘not so great’ restaurant and the other is an amazing Webcoder who has exceptional knowledge and a photographic memory of wine whom I served when he first arrived into Sydney from California. I made the calls, set the time and now it was up to me to work out a menu. I had three days to do so.

You would think truffle had to go with eggs…and yes I would have loved to do scrambled eggs with truffle, however, I am not good at scrambled eggs and so figured I did not want to waste it on something I am not confident at cooking. Also I was worried about storing it. When I got it, it was in a cryovac pouch with rice, but if I opened it premature to my dinner party would it keep at the same standard? Would it spoil? I could not have that happen, so I held out and put all my eggs into one basket. The whole truffle was to be used at that dinner party.

Reading, searching and skimming through countless recipes took up my weekend. I decided on fish souffle, risotto, then changed that to baked gnocchi or polenta. Recipes were ticked then ripped up as I tried to create the perfect dinner party, but finally they came together to create a simple yet tasty meal which will pair with the foods I was told I needed to match.

Entree needed to match an Alsacian Reisling or something similar so for this I could have gone either two ways: spicy or creamy. As a lot of you know I am not the biggest fan of Asian cuisines and so for me to do something of this sort it is a miracle. The latter seemed easier to achieve and more in the realm of my comfort zone. I did look up a whole range of savoury souffles which would be fun to make, however the twice baking, which lets face it, looks so much better, would take a lot longer and I wanted to prepare most of the meal beforehand, so out it went. Finally I decided on butter, poaching in butter sounds quite decadent but not as much as something the majority of which is cream, so tick tick tick, this one stuck.

Mains were to pair with a nice Burgundy, so nothing too heavy or overpowering. Poultry of some sort that not only had to match the wine but also highlight the truffle. I did want to do something with seafood to start with, but since entree was to be seafood I really did have to switch over to meat for mains. It was quite hard to find recipes with truffles and poultry I must admit. A lot of my cookbooks are too basic to feature truffles and the ones that did were either a risotto or an appetizer with scallop. Finally I did stumble upon a recipe which I was able to tweak a little which featured quails which were stuffed with truffle. Achievable and not too complex. Perfect.

Of course I do love to cook complex dishes that take days to prepare, however I was cooking at someone else’s house so ability to transport had to be considered.

So this is how it went down. I prepared the stuffing for the quail and the mash ahead of time. Once I arrived at my friend’s house I set to work. Task 1 was of course to get the truffle ready and sliced. Wow what a beautiful piece of specimen. If it were a piece of steak I could tell you it would also be of an extremely high quality. Look at that marbling!

I was actually quite surprised at how much it yielded. I could have gotten more but my mandolin was set a little too think.

I separated my yield into three piles, one for the mash, one for the quail stuffing and one for an extra dish I threw in. Firstly I chopped up the truffles for the mash so they could infuse through and develop in flavour.

Next was to chop the truffles for the quail stuffing then stuff them so they can also develop in flavour.

Then lastly I layered the truffles for my pop up dish until it was ready to bake. This dish is a variation of a dish from the Pier cookbook. They used marscapone, but I was using buffalo mozzarella. I sliced the scallops in half then layered the truffle then mozzarella on top.

While the cooking started, we also started ‘refreshments’.

NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Cremant du Jura then a 2009 Le Pere Jules Poire Pays D’Auge. The former is a blanc de blanc style and is from only Chardonnay grapes. This gives it its deep yellow hue and rich flavours of green apple and nuts yet has a lovely minerality an high acidity. The latter which is very low in alcohol (only 2.8%) was basically like drinking fizzy sweet pear juice, and hence it goes down very easily. Unfortunately we drank them in the wrong order, but hey, we still enjoyed every drop.

After a few hello’s and drinks, I got straight back into it and prepared all the vegetables for the entree: Balmain Bugs poached in butter with a witlof and fennel salad. I added the butter, and here there was no holding back, then sauteed down some eschallot and fennel which were very finely sliced. Once that was ready and the salad was dressed and plated, the bugs were ready to go in. They don’t take long at all so you need to be watching them constantly, as overcooked bugs will be tough and not have the nice sweet flavour they should, not to mention it will be a waste of money. Once cooked I plated and served. It was divine!

This dish was supposed to be enjoyed with a 2007 Domaine Huet Le Mont demi-sec (Vouvray) however the bottle was mixed up and we actually opened this instead. A 2009 Domaine Belluard Gringet Les Alpes (Savoie), which was still a beautiful pairing. Don’t worry the former bottle was not wasted and we enjoyed that too, a little later on.

As we sat and digested I decided to throw the scallops into the oven at a reasonably low heat, round 130 degrees, as I did not want them to cook instantly without the mozzarella having ample time to melt. Again this is a piece of seafood which is very very easy to overcook to an unpleasurable point, so I was watching and watching for their flesh to change to a stark white, and as soon as it did, I took them out. I was surprised at how much juice they let out, which I am sure would have been lovely stirred through some rice or other carbs seafood dish, however, it was not needed here so I just carefully scooped it out and then served.

I did not want to rush the next dish as we again needed to digest but also finish our drinks before we moved into the burg. Unfortunately my partner did not come, and really it was his loss as each course had that extra serve leftover which we ‘had’ to eat. Tough life really, but a shame he could not enjoy the truffle. Oh well, I am quite certain the others had no objection to enjoying more.

The burg that we were enjoying was a 2001 Robert Groffier Chambolle-Musigny “Les Hauts-Doix” and was opened quite early in the night to open up, and it was needed as the wine connoisseur said it was quite tight and needed some air. By this stage it was very smooth and earthy, which was especially chosen to go with the truffle flavours, and with a good body.

The quail took about 20 minutes to cook, which was good timing for a dinner party because the past thing you want is to be stuck in the kitchen preparing or waiting an hour in between courses. The only thing I had left to do before plating was blanch some green beans and heat up the mash, but again it was a quick fix and did not take me away from conversation for too long.

Mains were served: Mushroom and truffle stuffed quail with truffle mash and green beans.

The quail was delicious if I do say so myself, and actually watching people eat quail is interesting. I did not even bother with the fork and knife but went straight in with my hands. Those little creatures have too many bones to play with, if you have not bought de-boned ones, which I do not know where you can find. The others started off being ‘proper’ and attacking them with cutlery, but quickly resorted to my method.

We were all very full and satisfied by this stage. The truffle has been demolished except for one serve of quail which ended up being someone’s lunch the following day.

The consuming of wine continued. Once we finished the burg we moved back to white to a bottle that was opened by mistake, then onto another red, a 2009 Dard & Ribo Hermitage Rouge which is a natural wine that is bursting with berries and so extremely different to the burgundy we had just had.

I did spring dessert on everyone too, and actually had not planned to prepare anything, however I did make choc-orange brownies that morning to take to another friend who ended up being sick and not able to enjoy the truffle, although when I went to deliver them to him he was not home. I did not want to bring them home as I already had enough, so warm gooey choc orange brownies with creme fraiche ended up being dessert, not that anyone was complaining….

Overall it was a very very successful dinner, and I think one of the easiest dinner parties I have done. It was so smooth, the recipes were extremely simple and even cooking wise, each of them were quick to dish up. Of course having a truffle to work with does make it extra special, but I am so glad I got to share it with these friends who truly appreciated it.