Ghanaian Chef Selassie Atadika and the New Africa Cuisine

A native of Ghana, Chef Selassie Atadika studied at The Culinary Institute of America and also earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in geography from Dartmouth College. Now back in Ghana after working for the United Nations, Atadika takes advantage of the cocoa beans as well as the spices and herbs that thrive in her country’s terroir to craft Midunu, her line of truffles that are distinctive not only because of the complex layers of taste but also because they each etched with delicate and colorful designs. Midunu, which means “let us eat” in Ewe, a language spoken in Togo and Ghana, is a call to embrace all that the table offers – great food, conviviality and connection.

Chef Selassie took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about her truffles, the ingredients she uses, and her commitment to bringing to the fore what is quickly becoming a major culinary trend–New African Cuisine.

I didn’t realize Ghana was the second largest producer of cacao though most of it is exported. Can you tell us about why it is such a wonderful place to grow chocolate and if it differs in taste and quality from other regions?

Cocoa needs hot temperatures, humidity, and good rainfall. The ‘Cocoa belt’ is within 20 degrees of the equator. Every region has its unique qualities, and the West African terroir gives the ‘chocolatey’ flavor, which chocolate consumers worldwide know as chocolate. 

The traditional process of fermenting the cocoa beans in plantain/banana leaves in Ghana provides the second layer of flavor to the beans, which you don’t get in other countries.

How does your team of female chocolatiers go about incorporating locally and regionally sourced ingredients to create your chocolates?

Inspiration comes to me from everywhere. It might be a fruit or spice I see in the market, an element I taste in a dish, or a memory that comes to me from childhood. Sometimes, the ingredient is at risk of being forgotten in a culinary sense or lost in terms of biodiversity. So I try to see how it would pair with chocolate and then play with it in our kitchen.

Can you describe some of the herbs and spices and other ingredients you use?

The Afua truffle features the buttery, nutty, and caramel notes of prekese, one of my favorite West African spices, infused in a milk chocolate ganache, enveloped in dark chocolate.

Aa Introduces you to scent leaf, a wonderfully herbaceous variety of basil from West Africa infused in a white chocolate ganache, wrapped in dark chocolate.

The Azar truffle will transport you to North Africa’s souks. Get ready for the bright, tangy notes of sumac infused in milk chocolate, then enrobed in dark chocolate.

Can you give us a brief overview of New African Cuisine?

My cooking philosophy is what I call New African Cuisine. It celebrates culinary heritage where culture, community, and cuisine intersect with the environment, sustainability, and economy by employing local, seasonal, and underutilized ingredients, including traditional grains and proteins, to deliver Africa’s bounty to the table.

And when are you going to write a cookbook? 

Great questions. I’m setting aside time right now to work on my book proposal. 

Oscar of the Food World: Florence’s Restaurant in NE OKC wins prestigious James Beard Foundation Award! From KOCO Oklahoma City

KOCO Oklahoma City: Oscar of the food world: Florence’s Restaurant in NE OKC wins prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. https://www.koco.com/article/oklahoma-florence-restaurant-james-beard-award/39126571

Castillo de La Mota: In the Castle of the Queen

         Well, this isn’t going well I think as I approach the gates of Castillo de La Mota, a medieval fortress in Medina del Campo, a town known since the 15th century for its fabulous fairs and markets as well as being one of the places Queen Isabella of Spain called home.    

         A man behind me grouses to his wife “another day, another castle” but then stops as he sees what is in front of us. Lined up in a row blocking the entrance to the drawbridge are women archers dressed in long skirts layered with magenta jumpers each stitched with an insignia of a yellow bird with spiky feathers. But what is most daunting about the scene is that their bows are raised, arrows notched, and the strings pulled back. If they let go, we’ll be hit with a barrage of arrows.

         “Password,” shouts a tall woman who looks like she’s in charge.        

“Isabelle,” I call back without even thinking.

         “Isabella,” she responds.

         Oops.

         But it’s good enough. The archers lower their bows.

         We are not only in Isabella’s castle, we’re also in her time. Men, women, and children are dressed in the everyday garb of 15th century Spain, soldiers wear bright red doublet cut with yellow inserts, red pantaloons that stop above the knee, white stockings and leather shoes ranging in colors like blue, red, and beige.

I don’t know much about 15th century weaponry beyond bow and arrows and swords–and even that is very limited. But here the soldiers not only carry broad swords and rapiers, but also pikes and spears. Silver helmets top their heads and somewhere metal collars, part of a suit of armor.

         La Mota isn’t a fairy tale castle, it was a large strong fortress that the townspeople as well as the King and Queen could go for refuge. She and her husband Ferdinand II lived in a royal palace in the town’s major plaza though Isabella wrote her will and took Last Rites at age 53 at La Mota. Dating back to the 11th century, it grew through the centuries becoming the largest castle in Castile.  Called La Mota because it is on a small hill rising above the town, it has turrets (2), towers (4), thick walls and a courtyard.  Unguided tours are available as are guided tours which can be booked here    

         In her day,  Isabella, one of the few women rulers at the time, would have dined on rabbit, deer, bear, lamb, and bread. She would have enjoyed leeks but little else in the way of vegetables. Juan Alejandro Forrest de Sloper whose blog Book of Days combines his passions for world cuisine and as an anthropologist with a focus on rituals and celebrations. De Sloper was a professor of anthropology at Purchase College, S.U.N.Y for 32 years but he also spent time living throughout the world and learning to cook in all sorts of kitchens.

 In his post on Isabella he shares a dish from Libre Del Coch, a Catalan cookbook—the first written cookbook–written by Robert de Nola who went by the pseudonym Mestre Robert who was the chef to King Ferdinand I of Naples. The Catalan version was published in 1520 in Barcelona and translated to Castilian Spanish five years later. Parts of the cookbook are based on a famous medieval cookbook titled Llibre de Sent Soví.

The cookbook includes classic dishes that were popular with the wealthy (and Isabella was surely that) during the 1400s. Casola de Carn or Meat Casserole is like many recipes or receipts as they were called then, there’s no list of ingredients or amounts. It’s all a little murky for 21st century cooks, and phrases like “all the fine flavorings” are a little—no make that a lot baffling. There are also ingredients such as aggrestal (spelled in the recipe as agressta) means wild plant which can sure cover a lot of ground.

Casola de Carn

(Meat Casserole)

Cut the meat into pieces the size of a nut and fry it in pork fat. When it is well fried put in some good broth and set it to cook in a casserole. Add all the fine flavorings and saffron and a little orange juice or agresta and cook well until the meat begins to fall apart and only a small amount of broth remains. Add three or four eggs beaten with orange juice or agresta. When your master is ready at table, turn the meat four or five times to let the sauce thicken. When it is thick, take it from the fire and serve it in bowls, sprinkled with a little cinnamon on each.

There are some people who do not add eggs, or spices except cinnamon and cloves. The meat is cooked as stated above.

They add vinegar, for the flavor. It appears that many people do it in the following manner: the meat is left whole stuffed with cinnamon and cloves, and with the other spices in the broth. The meat must be turned from time to time so that it doesn’t cook more in one part than in any other. You can leave out the cloves and cinnamon if you follow the other directions correctly.

As wonderful as Isabella’s meal might have been, our luncheon at El Motero in Medina del Campo probably was equally good. Because Medina del Campo is a stop on the wonderful Rueda Wine Route, we indulged in the local wines and dined on fish, baby lamb, and a variety of whimsical dishes such as canelón de mango relleno de frutos de mar y gelatina de gazpacho (Mango cannellon stuffed with sea fruit and gazpacho jelly),  tartar de tomate, aguacate,salmón marinado ,wakame sobre pan de Cerdeña (Tomato Tartar, Avocado, Marinated Salmon, Wakame on Sardinian bread)and  Mini san Jacobo de lomo asado y salsa de piña (Mini San Jacobo roasted loin and pineapple sauce).

I did indeed dine like queen.

Who Needs Paris When We’ll Always Have Montreal?

“We’ll always have Paris,” Humphrey Bogart tells a tearful Ingrid Bergman at the end of the movie classic “Casablanca.” And indeed, Paris often is called the most romantic city in the world. But Francophiles are discovering ways to get their Paris fix — wonderful old cathedrals, superb bistros and historic neighborhoods set amidst a buzz of French chatter — without leaving North America or spending a fortune. That fix is called Montreal.

Bonjour! That’s French for good morning and it’s a great term to use as you wander the cobblestone streets of Vieux Montreal (historic old Montreal) just a short walk from the bustling and very modern downtown.

Among the must-sees is Pointe-à-Calliere, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. A national historic site, the museum has four main parts, including the recently restored Ancienne-Douane (old Customs House) which was built between 1836 and 1838 and the modern Eperon, a structure erected upon the ruins of older buildings with a basement that houses an ancient crypt.

An additional stopping point is City Hall, a fine example of Second Empire architecture, a style that originated during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-70) — who led the major building campaign to transform Paris into what it is today — a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings and ultimately influenced Montreal’s architect as well.

Paris has its famous Champs-Elysées shopping area, but the stores along Notre Dame and Saint Paul streets in Montreal also are a delight. Another must-stop is the Bonsecours Market, which opened in 1847. Its sidewalk cafés, vendor stalls and shops still hum with activity today.

And, of course, on Notre Dame Street is the magnificent Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, an awe-inspiring and magnificent cathedral built in 1892. There are guided and self-guided tours and The AURA, an immersive multi-media experience by Moment Factory that surrounds visitors with an amazing visual and musical universe, presented upon what is described as one of the most beautiful canvases imaginable: the basilica’s nave.

Contrary to what many might think, Montreal is a year-round destination with the 20.5-mile Underground City of stores, cinemas, restaurants, and more—perfect anytime but particularly in the winter when the temperature drops. Check out such places L’Art des artisans du Québec known for its woodwork, blown glass and amazing finery. Beautiful jewelry is made on the spot at Joaillerie St-Jean or Bijouterie Ralph et Elle. For books, stop by Renaud-Bray. Brands to be found in the Underground City include Rudsak for leather goods, Squish for gourmet artisanal candies and the Montréal-based, internationally famed ALDO shoes.

Pricewise, Montreal is a bargain and if you save your receipts, you can get your sales tax back.”

In comparison, the American dollar buys much less in Paris. It is a completely a European city with Old World charm minus the jet lag or a long trans-Atlantic flight.

So who should opt for Montreal instead of Paris?

Anyone who is looking for great value, ease of travel and who has a limited amount of time would be perfec.

For more information, visit Montreal.

They Ate What? Antique Cookbooks and the Meals of Olde

Still cursing at yourself for the extra helping of potato salad and sweet tea not to mention the second piece of blueberry pie at the family picnic last week?  Well, imagine how you’d feel after attending this 1450 banquet, held in England for the enthronement of an archbishop where guests munched on 104 oxen, six ‘wylde bulles,’ 1,000 sheep, 400 swans and such game birds such as bustards (larger than a turkey), cranes, bitterns, curlews and herons.

“Our ancestors had gastronomic guts,” Anne Willan tells me as we chat on the phone, she in Santa Monica, California where there’s sunshine and me in the cold Great Lakes region.  I find it fascinating to read old menus and descriptions of banquets and feasts and for that Willan, founder of famed French cooking school École de Cuisine la Varenne, recipient of the IACP Lifetime Achievement Award and author of more than 30 cookbooks, is the go to person.

Even better, after collecting cookbooks for more than 50 years and amassing a collection of over 5000 tomes, several years ago Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky immersed themselves in their antiquarian cookbook library and came out with The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook (University of California Press $50).

“Seals were eaten on fast days along with whale, dolphin, porpoise and thousands of other fish,” says Willan. Hmmm…that’s different than the macaroni and cheese and fish sticks I used to eat at the homes of my Catholic friends on Fridays.

Here we peruse four centuries of gastronomy including the heavily spiced sauces of medieval times (sometimes employed because of the rankness of the meat), the massive roasts and ragoûts of Sun King Louis XIV’s court and the elegant eighteenth-century chilled desserts. One for the interesting detail, Willan also tells the story of cookbook writing and composition from the 1500s to the early 19th century. She highlights how each of the cookbooks reflects its time, ingredients and place, the  recipes adapted among the cuisines of Germany, England, France, Italy and Spain as well as tracing the history of the recipe.

Historic cookbooks can be so much different than ours, ingredients unfamiliar and instructions rather vague. For example, Willan points out the phrase “cook until” was used due to the difficulty of judging the level of heat when cooking a dish over the burning embers in an open hearth. It wasn’t until the cast-iron closed stoves of the 19th century that recipes writers begin were finally able to give firm estimates for timing.

For food historians and even those just appreciative of a good meal, the book is fascinating. For me as a food writer, I wonder about covering a dinner where birds flew out of towering pastries, seals were served and eels baked into pies and it was often wise to have a taster nearby in case someone was trying to poison you.

The following recipes are from The Cookbook Library.

Duxelles – Mushroom Hash

Duxelles is a classic French preparation of butter-cooked chopped mushrooms flavored with shallots. It is said to have been created by François Pierre de la Varenne. La Varenne’s book, Le Cuisinier Francois (The French cook, 1651), was one of two books  Willan says strongly influenced the evolution of French classical cuisine.  You can use the duxelles to make mushroom tarts, as a stuffing for fish and even put it in spaghetti sauce.

  • 1⁄2 pound mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry
  • 11⁄2 teaspoon butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop mushrooms in food processor with pulsing motion so they are chopped in fine pieces but are not pureed. In a medium-size skillet heat butter over low heat. Add shallot and sauté about 1⁄2 minute until soft but not brown. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture is dry. Serve hot.

Rich Seed Cake with Caraway And Cinnamon

This recipe is based on a cake in The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, published in London in the 1700s.  Willan, ever the purist, suggests mixing the batter by hand as it was done 300 plus year ago.

“The direct contact with the batter as it develops from a soft cream to a smooth, fluffy batter is an experience not to be missed,” she says. “If you use an electric mixer, the batter is fluffier but the cake emerges from the oven less moist and with a darker crust.”

At times, Willan needs to substitute ingredients. The original recipe listed ambergris as an option for flavoring the cake. “Ambergris,” writes Willan, “a waxy secretion from a sperm whale, was once used to perfume foods. As it is now a rare ingredient, I’ve opted for Mrs. Smith’s second suggestion, of cinnamon, which marries unexpectedly well with caraway.”

  • 1 pound or 3 1⁄2 cups) flour
  • 1 2⁄3 cups sugar
  • 6  tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 pound or 2 cups butter, more for the pan
  • 11⁄2 tablespoon rose water or orange-flower water
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 325ºF. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Sift together the flour and sugar into a medium bowl, and stir in the caraway seeds. Separate the whole eggs, putting all the yolks together and straining the whites into a small bowl to remove the threads.

Cream the butter either by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the yolks two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the rose water. Whisk the egg whites just until frothy, then beat them, a little at a time, into the egg yolk mixture. Beat in the cinnamon. Finally, beat in the flour mixture, sprinkling it a little at a time over the batter. This should take at least 15 minutes by hand, 5 minutes with a mixer. The batter will lighten and become fluffier. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake until the cake starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean when withdrawn, 1 1⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 hours. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack until tepid, then unmold it and leave it to cool completely on the rack. When carefully wrapped, it keeps well at room temperature for several days and the flavor will mellow.

ZYDECO, GUMBO, AND CAJUN HERITAGE: IT’S ALL PART OF THE CAJUN BAYOU FOOD TRAIL

Follow the Cajun Bayou Food Trail: A REAL Taste of Louisiana Cajun Country

Just 45 minutes from New Orleans, the Cajun Bayou Food Trail is a journey through the heart of Lafourche Parish and the ultimate road trip for those wanting to explore Louisiana’s food scene. Known as the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, this region of the state takes its culinary delights so seriously that the name Lafourche is French for the fork. While some will explain, patiently, the term is a geographical reference to a split in the  Mississippi River, we’re thinking that any place with a name synonymous with an eating utensil surely knows its way around a menu.

So grab your car keys and your sunglasses—but you won’t need to bring your own Lafourche as any place on the parish’s Cajun Bayou Food Trail have their own—and hit the road. There are currently 18 restaurants on the trail including the recently added Cinclare Southern Bistro.

“We’re thrilled to be included on the Louisiana Cajun Bayou Food Trail,” says Michael Dalmau, the owner of Cinclare Southern Bistro. “The restaurants that span this historic waterway might be different in what they do and how they do it but know this …. they all do it well. In South Louisiana – and especially up and down the Bayou – feeding and serving friends and family is not only what we do to pass a good time, but it’s how we show our love and support. It’s part of our DNA and that’s why we’re so good at it.”

All the stops on the trail feature authentic food accompanied by the unparalleled Southern hospitality.

According to my friend Mindy Bianca, chefs down this way tell how their favorite recipes feature the finest local ingredients along with a true love of their surroundings and heritage. The latter means treating guests the same as family–well, almost, you don’t have to clean up after dinner like you would at your mom’s. All this makes navigating the Cajun Bayou Food Trail an unparalleled culinary and travel experience.

The lives of the people of Lafourche Parish are fully intertwined with the bodies of water that are accessible throughout the region, most notably Bayou Lafourche, a 100-mile waterway that bisects the parish, and the Gulf of Mexico. Residents of the area view the Bayou and Gulf as their personal pantries, finding seafood and other delicacies within and along their waters. If you live here, you’re most likely not going to get kicked you out of the parish for not knowing how to whip up a tasty gumbo (though we can’t promise that’s true) but fortunately most if not all figure it out from an early age using recipes passed down through the  generations. That’s why those following the trail get to taste dishes authentic traditional foods that are part of the Parish’s gastronomic heritage–prepared and served as they have been for as long as some can remember. But that doesn’t mean some chefs don’t do their own riff with added ingredients or other ways to make them uniquely their own.

Celebrating not only the restaurants and local food purveyors that honor the culinary customs of the region, the parish also hosts six festivals and events dedicated to honoring and preserving its distinctive traditions. Think La Fete Des Vieux Temps in Raceland, Louisiana

Calling it a cultural gumbo, Mindy says that “restaurants lean toward plenty of fresh seafood and run the gamut from mom-and-pop operations to sophisticated dining rooms.

“The unifying element is that whether it’s fried shrimp at Spahr’s, a restaurant that now has three locations and that has been a staple here for more than 50 years, or an elegant and savory alligator-and-andouille sausage cheesecake appetizer at Kincare, which offers craft beverages and a more upscale dining experience in the heart of downtown Thibodaux, your meal is going to be both delicious and memorable.”

Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to pick up a Food Trail passport and map from any of the participating restaurants or download it from this website, then eat their way through the parish. Collect enough passport stamps and you’ll earn your way into a comfy Food Trail T-shirt. Trust us and order one size larger before hitting the trail. In these ever-changing and unpredictable times, requirements for completing a passport have been modified and the Food Trail can now be experienced more “virtually,” meaning that participating Trail restaurants offer curbside service.

For more information about the dining scene in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, to download your passport and map, or to check out some pictures and start dreaming of crawfish and crabs, gumbo and gator, please visit http://www.lacajunbayou.com. The local businesses up and down the Bayou are ready to fill up your plate and offer you a lafourche to use.  

Other places to dine include Rose’s Cafe, Holly Marie’s Seafood Market in Raceland, Punch’s Seafood Market in Lockport, Harry’s Poboys in Larose, Politz’s in Thibodeaux, Cher-Aimee’s in Cutoff, and C. Moran’s in Golden Meadow.

What to Do in Lafourche Parish

You can’t eat all the time, right? In between meals check out some or all of the following stops:

Swamp Tours

Described as an otherworldly experience, like time travel into the state’s prehistoric past by  touring Lafourche Parish’s swamplands. Tour options includes the 2 Da Swamp Bayou Tours & Museum trips to Bayou Des Allemands with traditional Cajun music, and museum displays of artifacts Des Allemands’ early years. Airboat Tours by Arthur Matherne, open seasonally, is a high-octane thrill rides on its fleet of airboats. Torres Cajun Swamp Tours’ guides takes visitor the history and ecology of wetlands’ Bayou Boeuf.

 E.D. White Historic Site

The White family was once among the Louisiana’s political elite. Patriarch Edward Douglas White was the state’s governor in the 1830s; his son and namesake became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the 1890s. The elder White’s home is now a Louisiana State Museum site and is a step back into the past showcasing the state’s history. Built from cypress in the Creole Plantation style in 1825, White purchased the home, re-imaging it as a Greek Revival mansion. Learn about the White family, the history of both the home’s history along with that of Chitimacha Indians and Cajun settlers, sugar plantation owners and the slaves that worked the fields in service of them by taking a tour of the E.D. White Historic Site in Thibodaux.

Restaurants in Thibodaux

Thibodaux’s restaurants and fresh markets reflect the local culture and cuisine. Top-rated restaurant spots include Fremin’s Restaurant, where you can take in the architecture of Thibodaux’s downtown area. The food is prepared with a view into the kitchen and the duck-and-andouille gumbo is like heaven in a bowl. Head to Off the Hook, a down-home spot with awesome po-boys, fried seafood and more gumbo! And try something different at the Cajun Potato Kitchen, a quirky and casual restaurant serving huge baked potatoes loaded with Cajun toppings. It’s fun and different and popular with the university crowd.  Get a full list of locals’ favorite restaurants.

Bayou Country Children’s Museum

You’d be hard pressed to find another museum in the U.S.—or really anywhere—that’s a Cajun-themed children’s museum. At Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux brings together Cajun history, education and fun, making it a great stop for family fun. Here children can play on a full-size sugar harvester, toss beads from a Mardi Gras float, climb aboard a shrimp boat and more.

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building

The wetlands flowing through Southern Louisianna are a distinct part of Lafourche Parish where more than 100 miles of bayou meander throughout the parish. The Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building, located in Lockport is the place to learn how traditional Cajun boats were constructed, including their iconic pirogue boats and flat-bottomed vessels known locally as putt-putts that once common in the region’s bayous.

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center

Part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve in Thibodaux, the center’s mission is to preserve Cajun tradition and offers such programs as their free Cajun music jam sessions every Monday afternoon, a Cajun-French meetup on Tuesdays, historical Thibodaux walking tours and boat tours of Bayou Lafourche. While there, stop at the Center’s museum store, which has Cajun music recordings, crafts and books for sale.

America’s Wetland Birding Trail

The trail, made up of 22 parishes includes Lafourche which is part of the Grand Isle Loop. The loop includes sections of Louisiana’s best-known barrier island as well as inland birding destinations teeming with shorebirds and seabirds. Download more information about the Grand Isle Loop on the Wetland Birding Trail.

Charter Fishing

Here are both a full list of charter boat companies in the area as well as saltwater fishing in Louisiana.

Bayou Lafourche Folklife and Heritage Museum

Located in a 1910 bank building in Lockport, , enjoy learning about the area’s fascinating history.

Mardi Gras in Lafourche Parish

They really know how to celebrate the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day or as it is also known—Fat Tuesday. Typically there are more than a dozen parades roll through the towns of Golden Meadow, Galliano, Larose, as well as the parish seat of Thibodaux. Learn more about the parade schedules.

Shrimp and Tasso Pasta

Recipe courtesy of Bourgeois Meat Market, a stop on the Cajun Bayou Culinary Trail

1 lb. Bourgeois Tasso

2 lb. shrimp

1 large onion

1 large bell pepper

1 talk of celery

1 can Rotel

1 qt. heavy whipping cream

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 bag bow tie pasta

Boil Bourgeois Tasso in a pot with just a little water until tender.

Add onion, celery, bell pepper, Rotel, and shrimp and smother down.

Add heavy whipping cream and let mixture come to a rolling boil.

Lower fire and add cheese to thicken.

Combine with cooked pasta and serve.

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CHURROS AND CHOCOLATE: THE PERFECT END TO AN EVENING IN MADRID

In Madrid, we take a cobblestone street down a narrow street between Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to El Pasadizo San Gines and happen upon Chocolatería San Gines, the oldest churro shop in the city, having opened in 1894. There are two shops, just across the way from each other and both have long lines. But it’s our last night in Madrid and we are willing to wait. Ordering our churros and chocolate along with cups of coffee we find a outdoor table and sit down to wait–impatiently–for our treats. The churros when they are arrive are thick ropes of sugar coated dough fried to a golden brown and hot to the touch. We tear off chunks and dip them in deep bowls of thick rich chocolate and then taste. Sublime.

I think of churros as originating in Spain where they may have first been by shepherds, their name coming from the horns of the Churra sheep they tended. In turn the Spaniards, when they invaded Mexico, brought along their foods including churros and  buñuelos–a similar dish. Churro and chocolate shops are now common throughout Mexico. But their history may be more complicated as Portuguese sailors returning from China may have carried the recipe for youtiaos, another fried bread snack.

It’s close to midnight when we finally finished but this being Madrid the streets were just a lively and people still stood in line for their churros and chocolate.

Back in the U.S., I was desperate for my churro fix. Fortunately, there’s Take & Bake Churro Kit from San Diablo Artisan which beats making these treats from scratch. The company says they’re the only churro kit maker in the country making it a one-of-a-kind gift. There’s no messing with dough, making your own filling or frying them up. Instead, the kit contains 13 pre-made and chilled mini churros already fried to a golden brown and dusted with sugar and cinnamon as well as a selection of fillings such as Nutella, dulce de leche or sweet cream already packaged in squeeze bottles. Just fill the churros and pop in the oven or air fryer to reheat.

For the real foodie who wants to do a deep dive into churro making, San Diablo Artisan, a Utah based company, also sells churro dough so you can roll your own. And if you want to go all out when it comes to making churros, you can buy their recently introduced kit with a churro maker and nine different shapes of interchangeable nozzles.

San Diablo Artisan Churros specializes in creating artisan-filled churros for special events and celebrations. The proprietary, award-winning churro dough recipe is made from scratch and fried on-demand. The fried golden brown, hollow-centered churros are filled with “happiness”—gourmet fillings of choice. In a relentless search for churro perfection, the menu has expanded to include seasonal flavors, savory churro offerings, and nationwide at-home delivery. San Diablo members enjoy outstanding quality artisanal food that is undeniably fresh, delicious, and delivered with a unique style of fun. Like their Artisan Churros, San Diablo is filled with social good: supporting local, national, and international non-profit causes. 

Choose Chicago Announces a Relaunch of the Chicago Greeter Program

Just in time for the  summer 2021 season, the Chicago Greeter program will now showcase the city’s diverse neighborhoods through four different initiatives

Chicago, IL – June 17, 2021 – Choose Chicago announces a relaunch of the popular and world renowned Chicago Greeter program. The program now includes four different initiatives bringing the knowledge and passion of this network of 200 volunteer guides to locals and visitors alike in new ways, while remaining free to the public: the original In-Person Greeter experiences, Welcome to Our Neighborhood walks, InstaGreeter Downtown meetups and Self-Guided Greeter tours presented by Bank of America.

From Chinatown to Pilsen and Greektown to Little Italy, Chicago’s neighborhoods tell the stories of the people who made the city their home throughout history. Since 2001, Chicago Greeter has shown how these neighborhoods have remained just as vibrant today, with bustling cafes, restaurants, museums, public art and more.

“Choose Chicago is proud to relaunch and expand the renowned Chicago Greeter program this summer and share authentic Chicago neighborhoods with locals and visitors alike,” said Jason Lesniewicz, Director of Cultural Tourism for Choose Chicago.  “We now have four great ways to experience fascinating histories, diverse cultural traditions, iconic landmarks and off-the-beaten-path gems.”

Chicago Greeter Experiences

A recipient of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence for over ten years, the original In-Person Chicago Greeter experiences offer deep dives of 2-to-4 hours of the Chicago neighborhood of your choice. Guests are paired with a friendly, local volunteer based on their neighborhood and subject of interest for a personalized experience. Tours are available in over a dozen languages and are available to book now.

Welcome to Our Neighborhood Walks

Explore Chicago’s neighborhoods with these new, free walks led by diverse community groups and neighborhood organizations. Walks will dive deep into the highlights of each community’s unique stories, top attractions and under-the-radar finds, all through the eyes of people deeply embedded in the community. The first of these tours to launch will be through Chinatown in collaboration with the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute on June 19 and July 17.   

InstaGreeter Downtown Meetups

The InstaGreeter downtown meetups, returning July 2nd, were designed with those who are pressed for time or looking for a more flexible option in mind. These free, hour-long tours of Chicago’s downtown Loop neighborhood operate Friday, Saturday and Sundays departing at 11:30 am. No reservation is required and InstaGreeters depart from the Chicago Cultural Center’s Welcome Center located at 77 E. Randolph Street.

Self-Guided Greeter Tours

The new Self-Guided Greeter Tours, presented by Bank of America, provide visitors and locals alike curated, virtual tours designed by local experts to showcase each neighborhood’s unique history, culture and hidden gems. 

Through the power of video, blog and social content, this series will shine a spotlight on six Chicago neighborhoods by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of the Chicago Greeter volunteers. Each part will feature a different neighborhood, including a unique Chicago Greeter itinerary and logistical instructions on how to best explore the neighborhood in person.

The digital content will launch this month, with a blog post highlighting a self-guided walking tour of Chicago’s South Loop. Additional content will follow on a monthly basis, with Kenwood, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Pullman and West Ridge to follow. 

“Chicago’s neighborhoods are teeming with history and culture, and that deserves to be celebrated,” said Paul Lambert, President of Bank of America Chicago. “We’re honored to partner with Choose Chicago to spotlight communities across the city’s South and West sides, to encourage people to visit these local landmarks, and to drive economic activity where it is needed most.”

This self-guided program is an extension of the successful 2020 International Greeter Day “do-it-yourself” tours, which was created during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual series highlighted Ukrainian VillageUptownPilsenHyde ParkChinatown and the Chicago Riverwalk.

For additional information about the newly updated Chicago Greeter program, visit https://www.choosechicago.com/chicago-greeter/.

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About Choose Chicago

Choose Chicago is the official sales and marketing organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination, leveraging the city’s unmatched assets to ensure the economic vitality of the city and its member business community. For more information, visit choosechicago.com. Follow @choosechicago on Twitter and on Instagram. Like us on Facebook.

Romance Among the Ruins: Heidelberg on the Neckar River

When Prince-Elector Friedrich V married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King James I in 1613, it was–like the majority of royal marriages—based on political alliances and gains. Love had nothing to do with it.

Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson

But sometimes it worked out differently and so it was between Friedrich and Elizabeth who fell in love.  Heidelberg Castle, where they lived, was already old, dating back to 1200s and the Prince-Elector wanting Elizabeth to love her new home added an English Palace and an elaborate Baroque garden.

But theirs was to be a tragic love story. There were battles, a throne lost, regained, and then lost forever. During all that, Elizabeth bore 13 children before Fredrich died and she sought life in exile.

Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson

Heidelberger Schloss

The castle, a romantic ruin of seemingly endless staircases and corridors taking you here, there, and sometimes nowhere, stands 330-feet above the Alstadt, Heidelberg’s wonderful old town. Towers and battlements protect stone facades, their decorative features still intact though the rooms behind them are gone. Views into the multitude of windows reveals not an interior but woods and the Neckar River below.

“Deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful,” is how Mark Twain described the Gothic-Renaissance castle. He was one of many poets and writers who spent time in what they considered the most romantic city in the world.

Photo Jane Simon Ammeson

The castle is also home to the Heidelberg Tun, a 58, 124 gallon wine barrel said to be the largest in the world.  It was built in 1751 on orders from Prince Elector Karl Theodor to store the wine paid in taxes by the region’s wine growers. We should all be so lucky to have too much wine.

Brews and Pork Knuckles

Taking the funicular down to the old town, I meet friends at Vetter’s Alt Heidelberger Brauhaus on Steingasse, Europe’s longest carless street. It’s one of those baronial style Germanic places with high ceilings, large wood beams, long tables and a lot of dark highly polished wood.

Famed for their Vetter’s 33, which they say is the strongest beer in the world, its alcohol content is—you guessed it—33%. But it isn’t all beer her, they’re famed for their  traditional German food and so I decide to go full German, ordering the pork knuckle, sauerkraut and dumpling with gravy. Skipping the 33, I opt for the Hubier—a mix of the lager and elderberry syrup.

History, Luxury and a Family Touch

Courtesy of Hotel Europaischer Hof Heidelberg.

My love affair with the city began several years before when I checked into the five-star Hotel Europäischer Hof Heidelberg. The hotel, one of the few five-star family run hotels in Europe, opened in 1865 and has been owned by von Kretschmann family since around the turn of the last century.

Courtesy of Hotel Europaischer Hof Heidelberg.

I’d heard that Sylvia von Kretschmann, who with her husband Ernst-Friedrich, ran the hotel for a half-century before their daughter Dr. Caroline von Kretschmann took over, regularly did the hotel’s large floral arrangements. So it was no surprise when I ran into this very elegant woman doing just that in Die Kurfürstenstube, the hotel’s opulent dining room that opened in 1866.  Such a romantic place and romantic tradition—how could I not fall in love?  

Courtesy of Hotel Europaischer Hof Heidelberg

Chocolate Kisses

My romance continued at Chocolaterie Knosel where owner Liselotte Knosel talked about studentenkussor or student kiss, a chocolate covered nougat created by her great grandfather Fridolin Knosel in 1863. His Café Knosel was frequented by male university students who admired women from a local finishing school who were, alas, chaperoned by their governesses. A gift of student kisses was a sly way to start a flirtation.

We don’t know how well it turned out for the students but these confections, still hand crafted, remain best sellers more than 150 years later. Café Knosel—the city’s oldest café—is my go to spot for coffee and a pastry at one of their outdoor tables overlooking the church on Marktplatz.

At dusk, on my last night, I boarded Patria, a 1930s ship for dining and a cruise along the Neckar River. Watching the city lights sparkle in the calm water, I knew that though my visit was ending, the romance was just beginning. I would be back.

For more information, visit www.heidelberg-marketing.de