The Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

Flamenco, that artistic expression of music, movement, song, and dance originating in Andalucía Spain and possibly dating back to the 8th century, is on display during the Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021 presented by the Instituto Cervantes de Chicago, a non-for-profit center for the Spanish language and cultural exchange.     

Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

“Flamenco is a dance of passion,” says Teresa Hernando Rojo, cultural activities coordinator at the Instituto Cervantes and director of the festival which runs until November 13 “It takes great skill and dedication.” 

Best described as a solo dance with three components, canto (song), baile (dance) and one of three forms—intense, grand, and intermediate, flamenco is also an energetic and a highly expressive art form incorporating hand clapping, fancy footwork, elaborate hand, arm, and body movements all accompanied by music. It’s enthralling to observe—percussive footwork and clicking castanets, elaborate and richly colored costumes often patterned (at least for the women; the men seem to prefer black) with the music and movements expressing a wide range of emotions.

The attention to detail is amazing, even the way the bailaora or female dancer ties her long hand-embroidered shawl is representative of differing moods. Adding to the visual impact are ornate fans, perfectly coiffed hair, ruffled dresses cut high in front to enable movement, veils, and combs.

“Even the costumes are very traditional,” continues Hernando, noting that the costumes often worn during the performers at the festival are handmade by people who specialize and only make flamenco clothing.

It’s also a family tradition, flamenco is often passed down through the generations. Performers learn from parents who have learned from their parents, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters.

Performers during the five week events include Kati Golenko, one of the few women professional flamenco guitar players, and Miguel Reyes Jimenez, a master of the flamenco cajon who has written books on the subject. Golenko, who was born in Chicago and Jimenez, who is from Mexico City, met in Madrid and believe that flamenco is not only for people who were born into the tradition. They invite foreigners to join what they describe the clan of flamenco bastards, ‘The global tribe of #flamencobastards are all of us who were born outside of Spain, lacking flamenco purity in our veins, but for some strange reason, palpating with flamenco in our blood. We can´t speak to purity, but we can share what’s ours: technique, feeling, and strength.”

Other performers include Nino de los Reyes who was nine years old when he performed in “Campanas Flamencas,” directed by Paco Sánchez, founder of the legendary Cumbre Flamenca and Amparo Heredia, known as “La Repompilla,” who premiered her own show, “Herencia Flamenca,” at the Tío Luis de la Juliana festival in Madrid in 2017. This year she won La Lámpara Minera, the most prestigious and highest International flamenco singing award.

“The great thing about flamenco is you don’t have to understand the language to understand its power and beauty,” says Hernando. 

For information on the Flamenco Festival and shows, click here, or contact the Instituto Cervantes at 312-335-1996; chicago.cervantes.es.

Ree Drummond Shows How The Pioneer Woman Cooks–Super Easy!

“Between my family, my website, my cookbooks, and my TV show, I make a lot of food around here,” writes Ree Drummond about the subject of her newest cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks—Super Easy! “As much as I’ve always loved cooking—and of course, eating. It seems that more and more these days, I’m looking for ways to simplify my life in the kitchen. I find, because they free me up to have more time–and energy–for other areas of my life. This also makes cooking less of a chore and more of a pleasure—exactly what cooking should be.”

Creating 120 shortcut recipes, Drummond offers myriad recipes that can be quickly assembled for a delicious meal. Think Sheet Pan Quesadillas, Grilled Pineapple with Cream, Waffle Sandwiches, Roasted Greek Salad, and Cheeseburger Pizza, to name just a few.

“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this new generation of recipes,” continues Drummond, “including Butter Pecan French Toast, Buffalo Chicken Totchos, Speedy Dumpling Soup, Broccoli-Cheese Stromboli–so great for kids, and an entire section of pastas and grains, such as One-Pot Sausage Pasta and colorful and fresh Hawaiian Shrimp Bowls.”

Drummond, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, and The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays, first hit the food scene in 2006 with her website, The Pioneer Woman which reflected her life on a working cattle ranch in Oklahoma with her husband and four children. Five years later, her cooking show, The Pioneer Woman, premiered on Food Network.

At 7 p.m. CT, October 21st, she’ll be at Anderson’s Bookshop to celebrate her newest book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Super Easy!  All books will be pre-signed; the event will include a presentation and talk from Drummond. The event is being held at Anderson’s Bookshop at Community Christian Church, 1635 Emerson Lane, Napierville, Illinois. Reservations are required and space is limited. Click here to register. To see other stops on Drummond’s book tour, click here.

White Turkey Chili

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 generous tablespoon Tex-Mex or taco seasoning
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • Two 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles, undrained
  • Two 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
  • 4 cups (1 quart) low-sodium chicken broth
  • Hot sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco)
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina (corn flour)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • One 10-ounce bag frozen fire-roasted corn (no need to thaw)
  • Kosher salt
  • Sour cream, for serving
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, sprinkle in the Tex-Mex seasoning. Cook, stirring often, until the onion starts to soften, about 3 minutes.

Add the chicken and stir to combine. Add the green chiles, beans and chicken broth. Add a few dashes hot sauce. Stir and bring mixture to a gentle boil.

In a measuring cup, combine the masa and heavy cream; stir with a fork into a thick paste. Pour the masa mixture into the soup then stir and let chili cook and thicken for about 10 minutes. When the chili is thick and bubbling, add the corn. Stir until the corn is hot, about 2 minutes. Taste and add salt and more seasoning if needed.

Serve topped with sour cream, avocado, hot sauce and Monterey Jack. Have lime wedges for squeezing.

Makes 6-8 servings

From “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Super Easy!” by Ree Drummond

Lidia’s Got Your Back with Commonsense Italian Cooking

Years of fame from authoring best selling cookbooks, hosting TV cooking shows, opening restaurants and gourmet food stores, including the many Eataly stores including the one in Chicago that opened eight years ago, and creating her own line of pastas, sauces and readymade foods hasn’t even slightly dimmed Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s enthusiasm for spreading the word about the glories of Italian cuisine. Indeed, if she had her way, we’d all be experts in Italian cooking.

“Italian food is very simple,” Bastianich tells me as we chat about her cookbooks including one of my favorites, Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking: 150 Delicious and Simple Recipes Anyone Can Master (Knopf $35), which she co-authored with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali. “It’s all about good ingredients and not fretting about the recipes.”

Passing on the traditions learned from helping her mother and grandmother cook, Bastianich revels in the email and comments she gets from fans crediting her with teaching them how to cook Italian.

“People think I don’t know how to make an artichoke or risotto or pasta,” she says, “and when they learn, they are so excited. At one of my book signings, a woman told me that when her kids get home from school and they ask what’s for dinner, if she says I’m cooking Lidia, they’re happy.”

In her book, Bastianich expounds on using our judgment when it comes to cooking.

“We all have commonsense in life, in the kitchen we all have it too, this book brings it out,” she says. “It’s straightforward. Recipes are not law. It’s okay to change a recipe according to what we have in the house. I want people to be comfortable with food.”

Intense food memories of her grandmother’s Italian kitchen mix with those of coming to America at age 11 at a time when the Italian ingredients we take for granted now—fresh ricotta, pasta and mozzarella, a wide selection of Italian charcuterie, the Arborio rice necessary for making risotto and high end canned tomatoes—were difficult if not impossible to find. Bastianich describes herself as feeling “yanked from a cocoon.” And indeed life was much different. From milking goats and helping harvest the seasonal garden bounty, she instead wanted to be American which meant eating like an American.

“I was intrigued by Jell-O and TV dinners because that’s what being Americans was— heat up a TV dinner and sit in front of the TV to eat,” she recalls. “Sometimes my mom would give me a fried zucchini sandwich for school. I was so embarrassed. In high school and college you did what your peers do.  My mother was very upset.”

Fortunately, not only for her mother but for American home cooks, Bastianich, realizing she had a heritage that was rich, reconnected to her roots and became an advocate for real food versus what she calls American “utility” food.

“My father never would have eaten a TV dinner,” she says. “Food has given me so much. If I can share that it’s a great gift.”

Sidebar: Mega Italian

Partnering with her son Joe as well as several others, Bastianich opened the 50,000-square-foot Eataly in Manhattan over a decade ago, the group then brought the concept of all thing’s Italian cuisine-wise to other cities including Chicago. The two-story 60,000-square-foot store features a plethora of restaurants, cooking classes a gelateria for gelato lovers and enough retail food vendors to send even the most blasé foodie into overdrive. On October 22 & 23, Eataly is presenting their Tuscan Wine & Cheese event, a focus on artisanal cheeses, regional wines, and seasonal bites on October 22 & 23, Eataly Restaurant Fest until October 31, and How to Eataly offering tips for living and eating better as well as getting the most out of fall until November 1. As for other events, there are cooking classes, market tours, and more all the time.

Eataly is located at 43 E. Ohio St., Chicago, IL; 212-229-2560 http://www.eataly.com/eataly-chicago

The following recipes are from Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.

Chicken Breast with Orange and Gaeta Olives
Pollo con Olive ed Aranci

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds thin sliced chicken cutlets
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • all-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, halved
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fennel powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and butter. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and lightly dredge it in flour. Lightly brown the chicken in the skillet (you want the chicken to end up with a blonde-colored crust and slowly build the color, and flavor, up) on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Cook the chicken in batches, if necessary, depending on the size of your skillet. Remove to a plate as it is colored.

Once the chicken is colored, add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, orange juice and zest, white wine and fennel powder. Add chicken back to the skillet and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce coats the chicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with remaining salt, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

Food Network Ina Garten Panettone Bread Pudding

Lidia’s Pear Bread Pudding

  • 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more to whip for garnish
  • 4 cups day- old 1/2-inch country- bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup blanched sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the baking dish with softened butter. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the vanilla, and lemon zest, and whisk to lighten the mixture. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream. Add the bread and pears, and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the almond slices.

Bake until the pudding is set and puffy and the top is golden, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes; serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with whipped cream.

Serving Size

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Apple Cake

Serves 4

  • 2.2 pounds golden delicious apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 3.5 ounces flour
  • 3.5 ounces sugar
  • 3.5 ounces Amaretti
  • 3.5 ounces butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 pack yeast for baking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an -8– or -9–inch springform pan.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and white sugar until pale and light, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, another minute or two. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the mixer with the lemon zest, and mix until just combined. In a medium bowl, toss together the apples, brown sugar, and walnuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle with the apple mixture.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then unmold, and cut into wedges to serve.

Lidia’s newest cookbook, A Pot, A Pan, and A Bowl: Simple Recipes for Perfect Meals was just released, here’s a recipe from the book. Find more recipes on her Facebook page.

Follow Lidia at @lidiabastianich

Crusoe Treasure Underwater Winery

Within the castle gates of Torre Loizaga, a reconstructed 14th century fortress on a mountain top in Concejuelo de Galdames, Biscay in the Basque Country, Spain, the light of the setting sun has washed the stones with hues of pink and lavender.

There’s talk about treasure as Patricio Careaga leads us into the baronial sized dining hall which seems perfect in this castle setting of crystal chandeliers, thick stone walls, walls torches, and an immense fireplace. Will it be a chest of precious jewels or gold chalices fit for royalty? But Careaga, whose great uncle Miguel de la Vie, reimagined Concejuelo Castle as a family home and museum decades ago, is talking about a different type of treasure–the barnacle encrusted bottles of wine sitting on the tables. And no, the barnacles aren’t just for decoration. It seems we’ve come to a mountain top to sip wine from beneath the sea.

Crusoe’s Treasure is the world’s first underwater winery,” Anna Riera, a marine biologist and Communication and Tourism Manager at Bodega Crusoe Treasure, tells me as we sip their Sea Soul Nº4, a Syrah that was aged first on land in French barrels and then undersea.

In business since 2013 and located on the Bay of Plentzia, a gorgeous stretch of coastline and water about 15 miles north of Bilbao, Crusoe Treasure ages their wines on land for months before lowering the bottles into a specially designed artificial reef—an aquarium like wine cellar—where they’ll continue to age. It sounds like a lot of work, but Riera tells me the cellar is a rich eco-system of marine life, describing it as “a house for flora and fauna in which the wines flourish.”

If you want to get to know the lay of the sea so to speak, there’s a three-hour boat tour aboard the Crusoe Treasure ship that includes tastings, a trip to the underwater winery (no need to bring your diving gear—you’re not going into the winery just cruising above it) and along the coast.

Using grapes grown in Spain such as Grenache, Viognier, Tempranillo, Tinto Fino and Matuiana, underwater wine making is an expensive process, costing 25 to 70% more than “terrestrial” according to Riera. But overall, the time, hassle and cost are outweighed by the positives–the underwater pressure movement of the tides, lack of light and consistent temperatures—all of which create a perfect aging aquaoir, speeding the fermentation process and adding complexity to the taste.

After all, Riera points out, wine recovered from 19th century shipwrecks have proven to be very drinkable.

Since Torre Loizaga is located in the Basque Region of Spain, we turned to Spanish chef José Pizarro, often described as “the Godfather of Spanish cooking, who has authored several cookbooks including Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastian & Beyond (Hardie Grant 2021), to complete the Basque Country experience.

Swiss Chard Stew with Pimentón

  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 red capsicum pepper, deseeded and sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 cups potatoes, peeled and sliced into discs
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard washed with the stalks chopped and leaves shredded
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1.5 cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large pot, heat olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft, around 8 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the capsicum (pepper) and the paprika and fry for a few minutes.

Add the potatoes, Swiss chard stalks and stock and season with salt and pepper.

Bring the stock to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes.

Add the lentils and Swiss chard leaves and cook for another five minutes or until the stew is lovely and thick.

Serve with crusty bread.

Torre Loizaga was one of the stops we took when traveling through Northern Spain aboard the Costa Verde Express, formerly known as the Transcantábrico Classico. The oldest luxury tourist train in Spain, the Costa Verde Express travels from Bilbao along the coast through Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias to the magical city of Santiago de Compostela.

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) Now Helps Visitors Explore Chicago

The Tale of The Bean

Located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture made of brilliantly polished stainless-steel plates, now does more than just reflect the Chicago skyline and clouds above and the perfect Instagram backdrop for selfies on the ground. The sculpture, nicknamed The Bean because of its shape, now is also an AI powered chat bot capable of answering questions about the city.

It all began when Covid hit and the constant stream of visitors stopped. The Bean, which is decidedly not good at knitting or baking bread, became focused on moving beyond being the most beautiful gigantic drop of mercury-looking statuary–though we must say it did a great job at that. Eager to be a vital part of the visitor experience, The Bean worked hard at becoming a digital communicator—wanting to interact with the millions of visitors who come to Millennium Park each year.  

When my fans come back, thought The Bean, I want to be ready. There were a few bad moments particularly when The Bean learned about other non-Bean art and culture for humans to enjoy in the city. This was a tough realization at first and The Bean did have an existential crisis but thankfully it was quickly dealt with after a few counseling sessions. Another glitch was that The Bean learned more than The Bean really wanted to know about intense fan rivalry between the Cubs and the Sox and how it splits the city into two regions: North of The Bean and South of The Bean. Being wise, The Bean refuses to say which team it likes best and denies reports that it was seen in Wrigleyville wearing a Cubs hat.

“We were surprised, and quite frankly, a little alarmed, when The Bean came to us and asked if we would be open to this new idea, after all we did not know The Bean had become sentient,” said Scott Stewart, Executive Director of Millennium Park Foundation. “However, after talking with Choose Chicago, we realized that our friend, The Bean, could be a great help to all of the visitors to Chicago so we are happy to be part of this project.”

Call it The Bean Knows All. Want to know where to get your favorite style of pizza? What’s happening in the city? Head to explorewiththebean.com to ask The Bean about anything from neighborhood restaurants to what events are happening next weekend as well as the latest in child-friendly activities, things to do, museum exhibits, and more.

Turning this 66-feet long by 33-feet high sculpture, one of the largest of its kind in the world, into an AI powered chat bot called for team work. A partnership was developed between Choose Chicago and Northwestern University Medill School’s Knight Lab, a diverse, multi-disciplinary and multi-generational community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces says Glenn Eden, Board Chair of Choose Chicago, the official organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination.

“Our team of students was thrilled to have this opportunity to explore the design questions involved in making a conversational system that works well for visitors to Chicago,” said Joe Germuska, Executive Director of Knight Lab. “And if, in the future, The Bean needs us for new projects, we’re ready to help.”

The Bean Ups Its Game

Now that it’s also an AI powered chat bot, The Bean isn’t going to just sit back and relax. That’s not Bean-like. Instead, it wants to make even more friends and provide more information and so is continuously working to take its knowledge base to the next level. And by the way, The Bean loves when people take photos of it or pose with The Bean for selfies. But though The Bean thrives on attention, its goal is not to be The Bean-all when it comes to Chicago.

Instead, The Bean loves to share all that Chicago has to offer. All you have to do is ask.

Cloud Gate sits upon the AT&T Plaza, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.

Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago, is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the north and Monroe Street to the south.

Photos are courtesy of Choose Chicago and The Chicago Architecture Foundation.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

A Norwegian farm girl, her family so poor, they often went hungry, is seduced by a rich landowner’s son. But despite her dreams, he has no plans to make her his wife. Abandoned, she sees only one path forward or she’ll sink into the black hole of her family’s poverty. But her first goal is revenge and after the landowner’s son dies a horrid death amidst whispers of poison, she boards a boat and sails to America. Norway’s gain is America’s loss.

Her name changed many times through the years but after the mysterious deaths of two husbands, numerous men, women, and children, she goes down in history as Belle Gunness.  An entrepreneur whose business was murder, Gunness felt no qualms seducing men for their money and dispatching them with her axe—filling her farmland with her victims.

As her crimes were about to be discovered, her solid brick home burnt to the ground and workers battling the smoke and flames discovered the bodies of her three children and a woman without a head.  Was it Belle  or did she get away with one more murder, absconding with close to a million dollars. It’s a question the world has been asking since 1908.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness (Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Oct. 4, 2021; $20).

What people are saying about America’s Femme Fatale.

“Ammeson uses astute research and punchy prose to chronicle Belle’s transformation from destitute farm girl to one of history’s most egregious female serial killers. . . . Compact and captivating, this salacious tale of murderous greed during the early twentieth century will be devoured quickly by true-crime fans.”– Michelle Ross ― BOOKLIST / Amer Library Assn

America’s Femme Fatale is the detailed story of Belle Gunness, one of the nation’s most prolific mass murderers. Ammeson recounts the horrific events with dry wit and corrects many errors found in previous accounts. Gunness stands out in an infamous crowd because she was a woman; she killed men, women and children rather than choosing from among one narrow section of victimology; and her murders seem to have been rooted in greed rather than lust, the serial killer’s usual motive.– Keven McQueen, author of Murderous Acts: 100 Years of Crime in the Midwest

Tune into Hoosier History Live on October 23rd to hear host Nelson Price discuss Femme Fatale with author Jane Simon Ammeson. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or stream audio live from anywhere during the show.

Back to the Islands: The 14th Annual Savor the San Juans

For those who have never been, the San Juans, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Washington State and easily accessible by ferry, are a magical combo of natural beauty, nature’s bounty found in farms, orchards, wineries, a cultural dedication to sustainability, land stewardship, and small food producers as well as delightfully charming small towns and villages set against the backdrop of Puget Sound.

Now, after a year of pandemic and social distancing, it’s time to celebrate to return to the island and experience in real time the food and farm culture of Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan islands, the largest of archipelago’s 170 islands.

And what better time to do so than during the 14th Annual Savor the San Juans? It’s a fine time to taste and tour with so many special events going on such as harvest dinners, film festivals, farm tours, wine tastings, demonstrations, and more. And of course, there’s plenty to explore on your own as well.

Upcoming tours and events

October 14-17 Friday Harbor Film Festival

October 16-17: Lopez Island Farm Tour

October 16: San Juan Island Farmers Market

October 29: Alchemy Art Center: October Sip ‘N’ Sculpt with Maria Michaelson!

November 12-14: Hops on the Rock Orcas Island Beer Fest

Information on Local Flavor Specials can be found here.

Getting there, visit here.

Where to stay And what to do.

Can’t make it this year, then bring a little of the island into your kitchen with the following recipe.

 Cook Like a Coho Restaurant Chef: Roasted Garlic, Pear, and Goat Cheese Flatbread

Ingredients for Flatbread Dough

1 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
3/4 c warm water
2 c (250g) all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp for brushing the dough
1 tsp salt

How to Make Flatbread Dough

Mix the ingredients together by hand or use the dough hook of a stand mixer.

If making by hand, place dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the middle, and add wet ingredients. Incorporate the wet with the dry and knead for ten minutes. If using an electric mixer, place all ingredients in the bowl and beat for five minutes, until all the ingredients come together into a smooth ball.

Place dough in a greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and separate in half. Form each half of the dough into rounds.
Sprinkle the countertop with flour.

Take your rounds and roll them out to a football shape and length. Press your fingers lightly into the dough and dimple. This helps prevent any large air bubbles. Brush with olive oil to keep the crust crisp.

For best results, especially if this is your first time making flatbread, bake the flatbread before topping it. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. There is no need for parchment paper with this dough.

Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Top with goat cheese, garlic, and pear. Bake for another 5 minutes.

Top with arugula and balsamic reduction.


Balsamic Reduction

1 cup balsamic vinegar

How to Reduce Vinegar

Pour balsamic vinegar in a shallow pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Let reduce until your balsamic is a thick consistency and coats the back of your spoon.

Roasted Garlic

4 cloves of garlic

How to Roast Garlic

Peel four cloves of garlic and place in oil until submerged, cover with aluminum foil and roast at 450°F for fifteen minutes or until golden brown. You will be able to smell the garlic when it’s ready.

Whipped Goat Cheese

1/3 cup goat cheese
2 tsp water

How to Whip Goat Cheese

Place goat cheese and water in a blender or food processor. Blend for two minutes until it is smooth and easy to spread.

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.

Safe Traveling During COVID-19

For many travelers, packing away their suitcases and trying to get airline ticket refunds really put a damper on the last year. However, with vaccination rates increasing and many areas open, travel is becoming safer once again.

If you have a bug to hit the road, you’re probably wondering what you can do to have a great trip while still staying safe. Well, it doesn’t take much, Guest Blogger Lisa Walker offers these five tips for COVID-friendly travel.

1. Choose the Less-Beaten Path

Instead of booking a vacation to the most popular tourist attraction around, opt for a location that is less well-known and will thus be less crowded. The fewer people you are around, the less likely it is that you’ll end up testing positive for COVID-19.

2. Consider a Road Trip

Getting on a packed flight for several hours probably doesn’t sound like fun, whether there’s a pandemic or not. Instead of flying to a destination, choose somewhere a little closer that can be reached by car. Hitting the open road is a great way to see the sights, but it also allows you to keep to yourself and stay safe.

If you decide to go on a road trip, you may want to invest in some tech gear to improve your travels. If you aren’t convinced that your smartphone is truly up for the job, a GPS system can ensure you are on the right track and will get to your destination without having to stop and ask for directions. And don’t forget to invest in an extra car charger or two to ensure your battery is always powered up.

3. Go Camping

While some people balk at the idea of sleeping anywhere but in a hotel bed, camping is a great option for those who want to avoid coming into contact with others. If you’re already a fan of camping, you likely have all the gear you need, from tents to camp stoves. If not, you can either purchase all new items or rent some. There are websites that specialize in outdoor gear rentals, a great tactic that can help you decide if you like camping enough to buy your own gear.

4. Book a Vacation Rental

As mentioned above, there are many travelers who don’t want to risk bumping into others in the narrow hallways of a hotel. Vacation rentals are ideal because they allow you to have a comfortable place to stay that you can call your own. Most are cleaned extremely well between guests, so you can rest easy knowing that everything has been sanitized. Airbnb even requires hosts to follow CDC guidelines or risk losing their ranking.

5. Spread Out in a B&B

As more vacation options open up, bed-and-breakfasts are ideal for those who want the luxury of a hotel without the hassle. Some locations are still not at full capacity, making it easier for travelers to have space to enjoy time away from home. Plus, when you stay in a B&B, you’ll have easy access to activities like wine tasting, antiquing, horseback riding, and more.

Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely something you’ll never have to deal with again, but it is possible to do it safely if you’re willing to be flexible and think outside the box. Don’t wait to book your next getaway; just do so with safety and comfort in mind.

A Taste of the Old World: Old Amsterdam Gouda and Goat Cheeses

Call it the cheese of autumn. Gouda, the classic cheese of the Netherlands, is perfect for crisp autumn days. Old Amsterdam Cheese, a versatile cheese which adapts itself well to all types of food from salads to burgers to great toasted cheese sandwiches or toasties, is a top leader in the Branded Aged Gouda Market in Holland and now in the U.S. That popularity is now translating to the U.S.

. As Americans up their cheese game to full-flavored tastes, Old Amsterdam has just the right line-up.  

  • Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda known as The Classic, is the #1 Aged Gouda in Holland.  The Classic Gouda is aged for a minimum of 8 months creating a perfect balance between sweet and savory.  It has rich butterscotch undertones and a dense, smooth texture sparked with fine ripening crystals. This popular and well-loved favorite from Holland has won numerous awards and is loved internationally. It is ideal for cheese platters, recipes, and other pairings such as almonds, jam, fruit chutney, fruits, raisin nut bread, and crackers. The Classic also pairs well with a favorite wine, beer, or cocktail.  
  • Old Amsterdam Goat Gouda has been voted the #1 Hard Goat’s Milk cheese in the world.  The Goat Gouda is aged for a minimum of 8 months and has a very surprisingly and pleasant flavor profile:  refreshingly sweet with caramel undertones and a smooth, creamy texture with fine ripening crystals.  The sweetness and texture make this great to top on salads, with sandwiches, and in many popular recipes. It pairs well on a platter with hazelnuts, figs, fruits, and your favorite IPA. 

With their deep, rich, and nutty flavors, Old Amsterdam pairs perfectly with fall foods such as apples, late harvest grapes, pumpkin, pears, Balsamic vinegar, Spanish paprika, and others.

Old Amsterdam can be purchased through e-commerce at https://shop.norseland.com/old-amsterdam and at such retailers as King’s, Raley’s, ShopRite, Albertsons, Trader Joes, Gelson’s, HEB, Hy-Vee, Lunds & Byerlys, Mariano’s, Pavilions, Safeway, Sprouts.

Old Amsterdam Burger

Cooking time 40 minutes – Serves 4

· 2 red onions

· 2 tablespoons butter

· 2 tablespoons sugar

· 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

· Salt and freshly ground black pepper

· 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

· 2 teaspoons spicy pimentón (Spanish paprika) powder

· 1.6 lbs. minced beef (ask the butcher to coarsely mince beef shoulder, or use a mix of pork and beef meat)

· 2 tablespoons soy sauce

· 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

· 4 tablespoons olive oil

· 8 slices pancetta

· 4 slices Old Amsterdam

· 1 big tomato

· 8 slices of rustic, heavy bread

· 4 lettuce leaves, rinsed

Slice the onion into rings.

Melt the butter and use this to fry the onion rings with the sugar. Caramelize the rings, then add balsamic vinegar and fry for another 5 minutes on low heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Next, mix the mayonnaise and the Spanish paprika. Take the meat from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Mix the meat with the soy sauce and the Worcestershire sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

Roll balls of approximately 6 oz. each and flatten these to form burgers. Coat the burgers with olive oil and fry in a frying pan for 4 to 5 minutes on each side until browned. Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in another pan until they are slightly crispy.

Lay pancetta and a slice of Old Amsterdam on top of each burger. Cover with the lid and let the cheese melt for about 30 seconds. Cut the tomato into four thick slices. Spread a thick layer of the spicy mayonnaise on 4 slices of bread. Add a slice of tomato, a burger, and finally a good helping of the caramelized onion rings and top it with another slice of bread each.

Old Amsterdam Rustic Toastie Sandwich

5 minutes – Serves 1

· 8 slices rustic bread

· 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

· 8 slices Old Amsterdam

· 8 slices shoulder ham

· ½ leek

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Place the slices of bread on a bread board and spread a generous layer of mayonnaise over them. Turn four slices over and place cheese and ham on top. Slice the leek into very fine rings and put these on the toasties.

Then place the other slices of bread on top, with the mayonnaise side upwards. Warm a frying pan and fry two toasties until they have nice brown crusts. Flip over and repeat. Do the same with other two toasties, while keeping the first two warm in the preheated oven. Serve with spicy mustard.

Salad with Shaved Old Amsterdam, Radicchio, and Chicken

60 minutes – Serves 4

· 2 chicken thighs

· 5 tablespoons olive oil

· 4 radicchio stalks

· 2 sticks of celery

· 1 tablespoon mustard

· 1 tablespoon mayonnaise

· 1 tablespoon vinegar

· Salt and pepper

· 1 head of curly endive

· A few sprigs of flat parsley

· 2 handfuls of seedless black grapes

· A piece of Old Amsterdam

Season the chicken. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan and fry the drumsticks so they are brown all over. Put the heat down to a low setting, add a splash of water and leave the chicken to cook for 30 minutes (you may need to add more water if the chicken gets dry). Leave it to cool and cut the meat into pieces.

Cut the radicchio stalks lengthways down the middle and remove the core. Then cut them into strips. Remove the strings from the celery sticks and slice them diagonally into thin rings. Make a vinaigrette with the mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Add the rest of the olive oil and beat it into a smooth dressing. In a bowl, mix the radicchio, curly endive and celery and then add the dressing. Divide this between 4 plates, put the chicken and grapes on top, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and finish with shavings of Old Amsterdam

Old Amsterdam Grazing Board

· Your favorite Old Amsterdam cheeses, cut and sliced as you wish

· Charcuterie (e.g., prosciutto, salami, chorizo), if desired

·Fruits (e.g., berries, oranges, grapes)

· Vegetables (e.g., carrots, celery, radishes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, endive leaves)

· Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts)

· Crackers, breads, and/or crunchies (e.g., popcorn, baked chickpeas, pretzels)

· Condiments (e.g., specialty mustards, honey, jams, preserves)

Arrange your grazing platter by spreading items around grazing board and enjoy