have kids, will travel.

Once upon a time, long before children were part of the equation, my husband and I traveled. We worked hard and vacationed even harder; off to the Caribbean in the Spring, overseas in the Fall and nearly every Winter weekend spent skiing in Vermont. “I work to pay for my next vacation.” I would joke. We were young and unencumbered, determined to enjoy everything our carefree lives and big fat paychecks would allow. And enjoy it we did.

And then they arrived.

All sweet gummy smiles and tiny gurgley coos. Seemingly innocent babes, ready to take over every facet of our previously fancy free lives. And so began our adventure into parenthood and all the joys (and trials) that go along with it. And our passports sat. And our passports grew dusty. And eventually… our passports expired. But we never forgot those carefree adventures and we’ve regaled our kids with stories of our trips as soon as they had the attention span to listen. Wrapping up each story with the same phrase: “When you get older we’ll take you to…”, promising wholeheartedly to one day head off with them to some far off local. And we meant it when we said it, but for years it was just words. Until it wasn’t.

Doing anything with kids adds an additional layer of complexity, so when we decided that they (and we) were ready for a trip overseas it was not done so lightly or impulsively. I wanted them to fully experience everything traveling to an unfamiliar country has to offer; I wanted them to see sites that would inspire them, transform them, make them into broad-minded, open-eyed, free-thinking little people, but… I wanted to do so with as little stress as possible. While we never let the fact that we don’t speak Spanish, Italian, French or Dutch stop us from enjoying any of our past trips or dictate our destination, that was then and this is now. The idea of having to juggle kids while attempting to do a respectable job at translating seemed too daunting of a proposition. Nope, if we were going to make this trip happen it would have to be to an English speaking country. And honestly, once I made that decision it actually simplified matters. English speaking, in Europe with tons of awe inspiring cultural sights to see… London seemed to totally fit the bill.

I had been to London once before but it was on a whirl-wind trip with my mother years ago. We saw some sights, drank some tasty cocktails, ate some lovely dinners and came home. This trip however would require a bit more advanced planning. I knew I wanted to stay at a hotel that would give us enough space to get away from each other after a long and tiring day of sightseeing. We decided to stay was a residence hotel on the Thames, adjacent the the London Tower called The Cheval Three Quays. We booked a two bedroom, two bath, full kitchen and living room apartment with a washer and dryer, maid service and a concierge bar none. It was the perfect quiet oasis after a day out and about in the city. Now to focus on the sites we most wanted to see. Our list was long and believe it or not we saw almost everything on it, but what we loved beyond belief and suggest everyone visit was:

The London Science Museum (an AMAZING combination of design museum/ hands on science museum/Smithsonian museum with a fantastic restaurant to boot.) Right next door is the Natural History Museum, home to massive collections of botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Their dinosaur and fossil exhibits are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Another must if you have a little person interested in experiencing a traditional British tea is the “Mad Hatters Tea” at the Sanderson Hotel. It was a fabulous “just the girls” afternoon for my daughter and I. Every detail of the meal was well thought out and delicious. From the jewelry box full of sugar cubes to the tiny bottles of “Drink Me” potion, the handmade chocolate teacups full of light as air mango mouse to the perfectly replicated miniature queen of hearts cards made out of white chocolate. And the tea sandwiches, scones and mini quiche were all perfectly perfect. Another not to be missed destination is Borough Market, a permanent (partially indoor/partially out green market) that will make any foodies eyes roll. To say the place is amazing wouldn’t even begin do it justice. Since we were in the home of Hogwarts we booked tickets for the Harry Potter Studio Tour and got to see up close the actual sets, props and costumes from the eight movies. Even from a non-Potter aficionado’s point of view it was pretty incredible tour. (A word of advice; book these tickets months early. Entrance is timed, a limited number of visitors are allowed in and they sell out fast.) We went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in The West End and honestly, it was one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen. Who cares if you have Broadway right around the corner, seeing a show in The West End is a vastly different experience than one in NYC and absolutely worth the expense. We took a ferry out to Greenwich to see where time keeping as we know it began. The village was lovely with lots of shops and restaurants lining quaint winding streets, and Greenwich park is beautiful with a fantastic playground. Here’s a tip: While the hike up to the observatory will reward you with fabulous views of the city, you can actually see (and straddle) the famous Meridian Line just outside the entrance to the park. The National Maritime Museum, with the Cutty Sark at permanent anchor nearby is also a must see for anyone interested in nautical history. Another thing you must do; walk over the Tower Bridge at least twice, once in the daylight and once at night. (I’ve live in the NYC area for more than 25 years and I’ve never walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, yet we walked back and forth over the Tower Bridge at least a dozen times over the course of the week.) And speaking of walking, we walked nearly everywhere and saw sites we would have missed taking the tube. One day we wandered around our hotel neighborhood just to see what was close by and discovered not only the remains of a former Roman Wall dating from 200 A.D. but also All Hallows by The Tower; the oldest church in London. The building, with its scorched stone walls and puddles of melted lead, barely survived WWII bombings and has the scars to prove it. It also had super cool catacombs below with tons of historic artifacts. My son is a budding WWII history buff so he and my husband spent one afternoon touring the HMS Belfast and the Imperial War Museum. They both loved and were moved by the exhibits as well as the stories of heroism and courage. I could go on more about where we went and what we did, but instead I’ll a quick rundown of some of the fantastic meals we ate:

We had some amazing Indian food and sushi, crazy delicious fish and chips and a steak and ale pie to make your eyes roll. The kids discovered that malted vinegar really is the perfect condiment for fries, they were introduced to foie gras and LOVED IT (I have the giant dinner bill to prove it) and they were seriously delighted by the fact that Kinder Surprise Eggs were available everywhere. But the one meal we were all the most bowled over by, the one meal that we actually asked the server to ask the kitchen what their secret was, the one meal that my son declared in need of replicating at home was actually the simplest; Beef Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese. Sounds delicious right it? It was the onions that made it. Not only were they caramelized, they were caramelized with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and they were outrageous.

So now were home… and while I still haven’t found the time to download or print all of our pictures, or put our tickets and receipts in my memory shadowbox, I have found the time to try and replicate those onions. Mine were nearly as good as in London, and if I closed my eyes and really focussed I could almost hear Big Ben.

God Save The Queen.

london fam

Balsamic-Brown Sugar Caramelized Onions
These are a delicious addition to just about anything..

2 large sweet onions, halved and sliced thin
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and salt, give a stir to coat with oil and allow to cook over a low flame until they just begin to color, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the balsamic vinegar and let cook, stirring frequently, for about 40-45 minutes, or until the onions have cooked down and the liquid has turned into a thick syrup.
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a cherry pepper of a giveaway!

It’s over, can you believe it? Yeah me neither. It feels like only yesterday we were cheering over the first day of summer break and now ten weeks, countless day trips, endless hours spent floating in the pool and one family vacation later… and the summer of 2014 is coming to a close. I have mixed feelings about summer’s end. On one hand I’m ready to get back into a set routine; sure that means shuttling kids to and from school, soccer, gymnastics and so on— but there’s a certain comfort to be found in the routine. On the other hand I could do without another year of maddening school projects, endless video game vs. homework battles and the daily chore of making lunches. Not to mention feeling as though it goes from the first day of school to Halloween to Thanksgiving in the blink of an eye. Seriously, before you know it we’ll all be stressing over holiday dinner menus, Black Friday shopping and the impending countdown to the end of the year. Ugh.

Luckily the end of Summer doesn’t mean the end of garden fresh vegetables. Root vegetables, apples and pears, pumpkins and gourds and a variety of peppers are at their seasonal best this time of year. In fact on a recent trip to Corrado’s Market the local cherry peppers looked so good that I couldn’t pass them by. I threw a dozen in a bag and figured I’d decide what to do with them later. Turns out that inspiration was no further away than the cheese department. You see Corrado’s sells an amazing sharp provolone that my husband and I adore, but some may find too strong for everyday snacking. As I pushed my cart along I thought about that cheese and imagined the flavor mellowing beautifully if it was wrapped in a bit of imported prosciutto, stuffed inside of a cherry pepper and allowed to cure for a week or so in some quality olive oil. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about right? Those spicy little stuffed cherry peppers that are an integral part of every good antipasto platter and olive bar. Yup that’s right, that’s exactly what I made… and man were they delicious!

But my story doesn’t end there— You see writing about back to school and the impending holidays began to make me feel a bit stressed. Don’t get me wrong, while I enjoy all the planning, prepping and preparing of a holiday meal it seems to become more and more difficult to pull off with each passing year. Apparently the universe sensed my stress and sought to sooth me with a little retail therapy… No sooner did I think ‘Thanksgiving’ then along came an email from Pacific Merchants Trading Company offering to send me a few pieces of their gorgeous tableware to use and review! By now you know that I’m a sucker for dishware (especially serving pieces) so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to add a few of their beautiful Acacia wood pieces to my collection. But the folks at Pacific Merchants didn’t just want me to be happy, nope they wanted you to be happy too! Pacific Merchants has offered to send one lucky beets and blue cheese reader a $50 gift certificate which they can use to purchase something amazing from their website. But that’s not all, they also wanted to offer EVERYONE reading this post a coupon towards a future purchase. Simply enter “WeLoveBeets” at checkout  on www.pacificmerchants.com  for 20% off your next purchase, from now until October 1, 2014. Pretty fantastic, right? Yup those lovely people over at  Pacific Merchants really know how to talk a girl in off a ledge!

So thank your lucky stars that I start worrying about Thanksgiving in September and go enter the giveaway, make this recipe and serve it up in something beautiful from Pacific Merchants

Pickled Cherry Peppers with Prosciutto and Provolone
I never need to buy those expensive olive bar peppers again. And now neither do you!

stuffed cherry peppers

12 large hot cherry peppers
6 cloves garlic, divided
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cup water
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 lb. wedge of sharp provolone cheese
12 slices prosciutto
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Wash and dry peppers and put in a large glass jar. Peel and smash three garlic cloves and add them to the jar with the peppers. Then add the peppercorns and bay leaf.
  2. Combine the vinegars, water, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and carefully pour over the peppers, they should be fully submerged. Allow to cool to room temperature on the counter, then cover and refrigerate for 1 week. (The peppers will absorb a considerable amount of the vinegar. Once the level has dropped a few inches you’ll want to add something to the jar to weigh down the peppers and keep them submerged in the vinegar. I found that a small ramekin worked well.)
  3. Drain the peppers well and use a sharp paring knife carefully remove the stem. With a baby or demitasse spoon carefully scoop out the seeds, leaving the pepper hollow but intact. Place the peppers cut side down on paper towels and allow them to drain further.
  4. Cut the cheese into blocks small enough to fit in each pepper. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around a block of cheese (don’t worry if the prosciutto pulls apart), then gently stuff into a cherry pepper. Repeat the same process with the remaining peppers.
  5. Carefully place all of the peppers and the three remaining garlic cloves in a large glass jar. Cover with olive oil, put the lid on and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. And speaking of serving…

*adapted from chez panisse vegetables

HIP, HIP HOORAY, IT”S A GIVEAWAY!— HAS ENDED

wood plates2CONGRATULATIONS MIMI… YOU’RE THE LUCKY WINNER!

To enter for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Pacific Merchants Trading Company (which can be used for any number of beautiful times including a set of Acacia serving pieces like mine), please leave a comment below telling me what you like or dislike most about hosting a holiday dinner.

Are you like me and you love the recipe researching, list making, planning and ultimately pulling together a meal that hopefully tops all others? Or do you dread everything involved with a holiday dinner including the cooking, cleaning and having your family converge on you like locusts? Whatever it is, I want to hear it!

Leave your comment between Wednesday, September 3, 2014 and Thursday, September 11, 2014. (One comment per person please, US residents only.) Entries must be left via the comment form at the bottom of this post. A winner will be selected using Random.org. on Friday, September 12th and will be promptly contacted.

So please leave a comment and then feel free to…

  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Twitter.
  • Become a beets and blue cheese follower via e-mail
    (you’ll find the “follow me” button at the top of this page).
  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Instagram.
  • Share this giveaway with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck!

oh so easy hors d’oeuvres

If you were to ask me what I think the most challenging part of planning a dinner party was I’d have to say the hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. I truly feel like they can set the pace for the rest of the meal. If your hors d’oeuvres are uninspired and lame, you can be pretty sure your guests will be anticipating the same out of your dinner. And if they’re overly fussy and complicated your guests may pass on them all together. But… when done right they’re capable of making even the most last minute of gatherings feel like a special occasion. I bet you never realized what a slippery slope hors d’oeuvres could be!

I’ve been known to serve fancy little wonton wrappers with pesto and goat cheese, homemade sweet bean piroshki and yummy curried butternut squash soup as an hors d’oeuvre or first course, but sometimes complicated and fussy is precisely my goal. However a casual get together calls for much simplier fare, something along the lines of freshly steamed shrimp with cocktail sauce, spinach dip with crudites, or a lovely antipasto plate with some tasty cheese, fruit, herb roasted olives and slow roasted tomatoes. I know, that last part sounds eye-rollingly complicated, right? Well I’m here to tell you it’s not, not at all. And the best part is that the olives and tomatoes can be made ahead of time so all you have to do is arrange yourself a little platter of tasty morsels on the day of the party and hors d’oeuvres are served!

Orange + Herb Roasted Olives
I used a mixture of small brined Nicoise, Picholine and Kalamata olives and large green Italian Cerignola olives for this recipe.

olives

2 cups assorted olives (3/4 pound)
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. orange juice
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. grated orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a small bowl toss together all of the ingredients except for the orange zest. Roast until sizzling, stirring half way through, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove thyme and rosemary springs and transfer the olives to a bowl, toss with the orange zest. Serve at room temperature.

*adapted from food & wine

Slow Roasted Plum Tomatoes
These are delicious paired with a little cheese, on a sandwich or just as is. Typically I use fresh herbs over dried whenever possible, but in this case since the goal is to dehydrate and reduce the tomatoes I prefer to use dried herbs.

tomatoes3

2 lbs. plum tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
dried thyme
garlic powder
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 225°F. Slice each tomato in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet.
  2. Drizzle each half with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 3 hours.
  3. After 3 hours has elapsed drizzle each half with balsamic vinegar and continue to roast for another 2-3 hrs or until they become very flat and wrinkled (this will all depend on the size of your tomatoes). Let cool and serve or refrigerate for a later use.