Our Tasty European Road Trip Adventure Starts….Now!

Our Tasty Travels "Tasty Road Trip 13" #TastyRT13

The planned route for Our Tasty Travels “Tasty Road Trip 13″ #TastyRT13

By the time this post goes live, I should already be setting out on what promises to be an interesting — and fattening — 1.5 weeks. The team of Our Tasty Travels is headed out on a pretty epic European foodie adventure in conjunction with our upcoming Croatian culinary cruise with Katarina Line on October 16.

Some of the countries we are passing through one or both of us have visited on numerous occasions, so we are likely to just drive straight through those. I want to concentrate on exploring a few of the new countries we will be passing through like Romania, Serbia, and Albania. However, I’ve set a rule in place – if we cross a country line, we MUST try something local to eat and drink. And with me, that probably means bringing a bottle of wine, beer, or liquor home as well.

As it stands now, our route (dependent on weather obviously) is as follows:

  1. Netherlands (starting point)
  2. Cologne, Germany
  3. Plzen, Czech Republic
  4. Vienna, Austria
  5. Bratislava, Slovakia
  6. Budapest, Hungary
  7. Timisoara, Romania
  8. Belgrade, Serbia
  9. Sofia, Bulgaria
  10. Skopje, Macedonia
  11. Kosovo
  12. Shkodra, Albania
  13. Herceg Novi, Montenegro
  14. Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  15. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  16. Split Croatia
  17. Opatija, Croatia (where our #kvarnerfood cruise embarks)
  18. Koper, Slovenia
  19. Venice, Italy
  20. San Marino
  21. Vaduz, Liechtenstein
  22. Zurich, Switzerland
  23. Strasbourg, France
  24. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
  25. Liege, Belgium
  26. The Netherlands (home)

Total: 5,638 km, 64 hours driving time, 23 countries.

This is quite a lofty goal, especially knowing how side tracked I get by destinations, scenery, and food. Not to mention how much I hate mornings…absolutely, intensely loathe mornings. Have I mentioned how much I despise mornings?? If anything, I should get pretty familiar with coffee in every country we spend the night in.

If you have any local recommendations on must try food and drink, please let me know! Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter using the hashtag #TastyRT13. Some of the countries we are passing through are not part of our roaming service on the Dutch phones so we may not update until settling in the hotel at night.

Photo of the Week: Riedel Wine Glass Seminar

Wines Served at Riedel Wine Seminar on Celebrity Summit

This week’s photo comes from our Caribbean cruise last month.  During our last day at sea we attended a Riedel wine glass seminar on the ship.  If you are a wine drinker and have not experienced a seminar that allows you experience how the quality of your wine glass affects the wine, you are missing out.  I highly recommend taking one or experimenting at home with the right glasses.  Working in a winery and being a wine lover, I learned long ago about the importance of the wine glass and how it alters the wine.  I will go into more detail in the post on the seminar itself, but suffice it to say, a good wine can be an absolute waste in the wrong glass, so please don’t put that $100 California Cabernet in an IKEA wine glass!

Cooking in Taipei: Ten-Course Tasting Menu for Brett’s Birthday

Not sure how Brett lucked out for me to plan an entire foodie weekend for his birthday this year, but we made reservations for a couple nice restaurants over the weekend and I agreed to cook dinner for him on Friday night.  Being the overachiever that I am, I somehow deluded myself into thinking I could pull off a ten course dinner by myself!  We tried to go to bed early Thursday night so I could get up for my favorite Twitter travel “Tweetup” at 4am — #TNI!  Unfortunately, when it was over around 6 am, all I wanted to do was nap — not get up and start cooking.  Fast forward to 9am when I bolted back up and realized I needed to get started otherwise we’d still be eating this dinner come Saturday morning breakfast.

I did as much prep work as I could early in the day (sauces, chopping, etc.), but somehow the day just flew and guess what?  We were still eating well after 1am.  As usual, the best laid plans gone awry! Overall, it was a success – apart from a few cooking snafus and wrangling with the world’s most difficult dessert in my opinion.  I must point out how well-adjusted I have become to our small kitchen here in Taipei after coming from a huge Western style kitchen with easily sourced ingredients.  It has taken time to get used to cooking with only two burners, a small and quite temperamental oven, and having to run to five different types of grocery stores to get supplies, so I am rather impressed I managed to pull off a dinner this grand.

Here is a look at the courses and links to recipes where applicable.  I planned the entire meal around two special bottles of wine for the evening — 07 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and our rather expensive 02 Heitz Cellars‘ Martha’s Vineyard legendary Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Heitz Cellars' Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

First Course: Bagna Calda

Bagna Calda is one of my all-time favorite dishes from The Stinking Rose Restaurant in California.  Both Brett and I love garlic so I was thrilled to introduce him to a garlic themed restaurant when we first started dating.  Bagna Calda is one of their signature dishes, which is basically a garlic bath.  Cloves of garlic are baked in olive oil, butter, and anchovies.  Once the cloves are soft, you can spread these garlicky delights on bread, crackers, etc.  Since we were doing a big multi-course dinner, I opted to cook just a few cloves for each of us, otherwise I am sure we would’ve filled up on these right away.

Bagna Calda

I used some of my favorite Northern California Lucero Olive Oils (Basil and also a bit of the Lemon), some anchovy paste, high-end French butter, and baked everything in a small dish for about 35 minutes on 325 degrees F.  They key is to coat the cloves in oil so they stay moist in the oven.

Second Course:  Scallops on Potato Pancakes

This course was inspired by a Food & Wine recipe for Scallops with Potato Pancakes and Caviar Sauce.  Since Brett is Jewish and loves his Hanukkah latkes, this was a perfect opportunity to combine them into his fancy birthday dinner too!

Caviar is not that easy to track down here and for the price of $100 US, I didn’t think it was really worth spending that much for sauce.  I opted to make a vanilla butter sauce instead.  Since I was making only four scallops I just used a portion of a Tahitian vanilla bean we got in French Polynesia.  I made a simple sauce of chopped shallots, white wine, butter, and the vanilla pod scrapings.  The Food & Wine recipe says you can make the latkes ahead of time and keep them at room temperature for two hours, but I recommend making them fresh so they stay extra crisp.

Scallops with Potato Pancakes and Vanilla Butter Sauce

Can see the bits of the Tahitian vanilla bean!

Third Course: Ravioli Filled with Brie, Pumpkin, and Leeks Tossed in a Browned Butter Sauce

This is definitely the course where disaster began to strike.  The pasta dough I intended to use had an awful consistency, so I ended up making dough from scratch!   Unfortunately, our apartment is either overly humid or skin-cracking dry.  Brett had turned on the dehumidifier because of all the cooking I had been doing so the dough ended up cracking and drying out too soon.  I couldn’t get it rolled as thin as I needed so I knew my ravioli skins were going to be more dense than normal ones.

Although the ravioli were quite thick, at least the filling came out great.  I heated fresh pumpkin puree I had already made with some Brie and a small handful of finely chopped leeks.  I made a simple browned butter sauce and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Ravioli stuffed with Brie, Pumpkin, and Leeks Tossed in a Browned Butter Sauce

Close Up of the Dense Ravioli Skin

Fourth Course:  Leek and Red Wine Soup

This course was inspired by Food & Wine’s recipe for Silky Leek and Red Wine Soup.  The soup has a nice blend of leeks, a pinch of saffron, red wine, and of course heavy cream.  This is a great recipe, but for the dinner I varied it slightly to be less creamy and more of a true red wine soup.  When I was working on this dish, Brett’s face was priceless…I opened the saffron and I think he saw dollar signs floating above.  We can only get one kind of saffron here and it’s over $30 US for 1 gram or 0.03 ounces.  I only used a pinch I swear!

Leek and Red Wine Soup

Fifth Course:  Mini Baked Mac and Cheese

These are fun and really simple to make.  Take cooked elbow macaroni and mix with your favorite blend of cheeses and drop into buttered muffin cups.  You can make them ahead of time and keep in the fridge until you are ready to bake.  I used a blend of Padano, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Cheddar.  Top them with additional grated Parmesan and bake until they are golden brown on the top.

Mini Mac and Cheese Muffins

Sixth Course: Caesar Salad

To counter the two heavy pasta courses, I did a light salad with a traditional Caesar dressing (just used very little egg yolk).  Instead of shaved or grated Parmesan cheese, I used Parmesan crisps I had baked earlier in the day.  These provide a nice crispy texture in a salad (especially if you do not use croutons).

Salad with Parmesan Crisps and Caesar Dressing

Seventh Course: Herb Crusted Lamb Chops with Caramelized Broccoli

Brett loves his lamb chops so I couldn’t imagine a big dinner without them, not to mention they pair perfectly with our beloved Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  I marinated the lamb in red wine and herbs for most of the day and then crusted them with a mix of additional herbs.  About five minutes on the grill and they were perfect.  For a side dish, I prepared a little caramelized broccoli with sliced garlic.

Lamb Chops with Caramelized Broccoli

Caramelized Broccoli is Easy to Make and a Nice Match with Cabernet Sauvignon

Eighth Course: Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Soufflé with Vanilla Rum Caramel Sauce

This was a course of concern for me.  I had not made a true chocolate soufflé before, so probably not the best time to try one now!  I had really wanted to use Valrhona chocolate, but we could not find it at the store this time, so I opted to use an interesting Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt.  I also added 1/4 of the Tahitian vanilla pod to the chocolate mixture.  I used a recipe from Food Network for the soufflé itself.  I had a rough time getting my egg whites to stiffen and I think I must have had a tiny bit of egg yolk on the beaters.  As I continued to mix for what seemed like 30 minutes, Brett found a tip online that said to use cream of tartar.  It did work — the egg whites began to form peaks shortly thereafter!

Earlier in the day, I made a Tahitian vanilla bean and Cuban rum caramel sauce.  It was quite thick, super sweet, but oh so delicious!  Looking forward to finishing the leftover sauce with some vanilla bean ice cream!

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Soufflé with Vanilla Caramel Sauce

Ninth Course: Passion Fruit Macarons with Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache

I’ve read numerous recipes and blogs about how difficult these are to make, but I wasn’t dissuaded.  I can see why you need to make them over and over again to get them right.  I could not find food coloring anywhere here in Taipei (go figure), but we did find food flavoring drops that had some color.  I bought the passion fruit and coffee flavors in hopes I could use one of these two.  Combing the fruit stand, I found fresh passion fruit and decided to try a passion fruit macaron with a passion fruit chocolate ganache.

While I aspire to make macarons as good as Pierre Herme, I figured it was a bit ambitious to start off trying that complex of a recipe.  Instead, I went with the queen of simple and straight forward – Martha Stewart! It appears she can really do anything.  Her basic macaron recipe was quite simple and easy to follow.

I started the macarons in the morning and the first few ended up sticking together (when they say leave at least 2 inches in between…they really mean it!)  Trying to get the almond mixture in the pastry bag was a challenge in itself.  If you have wedding rings on and happen to be a lefty like me, take them off!  That almond mixture is a $&@*@( to clean off rings, especially if you have any pave set diamonds!

Out of 20 something macaron halves, I did manage to get at least 6 sets that were reasonably the same size and shape.  A tip: let them cool completely otherwise they are very easy to break.  Set them aside and do something else for an hour or so — if you live in a humid climate like we do, it may take even longer for them to completely set.

Passion Fruit Macarons with Passion Fruit Ganache

For the ganache, I actually used a Pierre Herme recipe with fresh passion fruit puree.  Making your own passion fruit puree is not hard if you basically put the “guts” in a food processor and then strain.  Some people use sugar as well but since it was going into a ganache, I did not add any extra sugar.  And now we have extra puree for passion fruit margaritas!

One recommendation on piping the ganache — let it harden completely.  I put it in the fridge for nearly an hour; however, it started softening quickly due to the humidity and the heat of my hands on the pastry bag and began to spit.  It probably would’ve been easier had I let it set up longer.

Overall, the macarons came out better than I expected for my first time and they were delicious, so that is what’s important!  Next time I can work on the aesthetics.

Close up of the Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache

Tenth Course: Aged Cheeses and Gourmet Honey

We love pairing gourmet cheeses with wine and have been known to make a meal out of meats and cheeses before.  Our favorite chef here in town often treats us to special aged cheeses, gourmet honey, and homemade raisins after one of his big degustation menus.  Finding certain gourmet cheeses here can be hit or miss sometimes — one thing I definitely miss from the States!  In the end, I served the aged Parmesan and Padano since we still had a little Cabernet Sauvignon left.  Not terribly exciting, but a clean way to finish off after those two rich desserts.

Aged Cheese and Gourmet Honey

By the time we finished this course, I was exhausted.  When I woke up Saturday morning, I was actually sore!  Standing hunched over a counter on hard tile floors for 12+ hours made for a long day, but Brett was worth it…sore muscles and all!

Napa Valley: Waterstone 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Waterstone 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Sadly, our wine collection at home has been rather neglected as of late - between traveling the past few months and moving into a new place, we calculated that we’ve eaten more meals at various airports than our own home so far this year!  Last night was an unusually cold and windy night in Taipei so we opted to skip going out and finally enjoy a nice romantic meal in our new apartment, which provided the perfect excuse to open one of our good Napa Cabs.  Our pick – the 2004 Reserve from Waterstone.

Any good Cab deserves a nicely paired meal to bring out the complex array of aromas and flavors found in this hearty varietal.  My pick for this wine was a juicy, thick grilled steak.  Marinated with a dry rub, much like Emeril’s Essence, I was very curious to see how the Cab would stand up against the strong black pepper flavor often best reserved for a varietal like Zinfandel.

Steak with grilled onions, baked potato, and green beans

To my pleasant surprise, the Waterstone Cabnernet stood up perfectly against the peppery dry rub, maintaining its fruit forwardness and a nice finish.  The 2004 Reserve Cab is 9% Cabernet Franc, perhaps providing that tobacco touch that married so well with the black pepper in the spice rub.

In general, I’ve found 2004 to be a fantastic year for Cabs in the Napa Valley.  Almost every 2004 Cab I’ve tried from Napa Valley has easily beaten out other year vintages, hands down.  After what turned out to be an early harvest season due to early bud break followed by a hot summer,  many vineyards were faced with a decrease in fruit production; however, they ended up with grapes that had much more concentrated flavors.  This certainly worked in Waterstone’s favor as this wine was recognized by Wine Enthusiast and awarded 91 points in the November 2008 Buyer’s Guide.

Tasting Notes and Wine Data

  • Tasting Notes: Aromas of cedar oak, currant, black cherry and ripe plum.  Flavors of cherries, plums, chocolate and tobacco marry with the subtle oak nuances. Firm tannins provide a balance, leading to a long, lingering finish.
  • Composition: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot
  • Oak Aging: 21 months in brand new small French Oak barrels
  • Production: 664 cases
  • Bottling Date: January 15, 2007
  • Suggested retail: $75
  • Cellar Potential:  Wine Enthusiast suggests cellaring until 2012, or drink now after decanting for a few hours
  • Websitewww.waterstonewines.com

Old World Wines: Rosé from Côtes de Provence

Côtes de Provence Rosé

Côtes de Provence Rosé

To pair with our leftover bifteki burgers, we opted to try another rosé we bought at random while grocery shopping.  Since we are basically limited in our wine options here on the island, we chose several rosés to pair with our pork dishes.  Rosés are the main wine that come from the Côtes de Provence region.  It is believed that 50% of the rosé wine made in France comes from the Côtes de Provence area, which is located on the French Riviera.  The rosés from this region tend to be more dry and fruit forward.  I could not really find much information about the winery but this was definitely a decent choice for just an every day drinking wine.

New World Wines: Reserve Mourvedre from Lava Cap

Lava CapLava Cap in Placerville, CA produces some great wines (winery review to follow!) and one of the bottles that made it to Taiwan with us is their Mourvedre Reserve.  Mourvedre is a Rhone varietal that tends to be a pretty tannic wine on its own.  Besides the southern Rhone Valley, it is common along the Mediterranean, sometimes known as Monastrell or Mataro.  It is most often a blending wine and Lava Cap’s Mourvedre Reserve is 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Zinfandel, and 2% Barbera.   Lava Cap notes their Mourvedre has a spicy nose of black pepper, anise, cherry, and clove framed by a sweet oak.   The taste is smooth and rich, but not too tannic.

Lava Cap produced only 9 barrels of this wine and it’s probably one of my favorite wines from them.  For those who are not familiar with the vineyard, it’s a small, boutique type winery, located in the foothills near Sacramento.

For pairing Mourvedre, it is best with roasts, stews, and more hearty dishes.  We paired it with a roast pork in red wine (used the Mourvedre) sauce with a potato stew.

Napa Valley Wineries: Franciscan Winery

Entrance of Franciscan Winery

Entrance of Franciscan Winery

The first time I had a wine from Franciscan was actually a few years ago while living in Las Vegas!  While enjoying a wine pairing dinner at the Stratosphere’s Top of the World Restaurant, one of the courses was paired with the Franciscan Chardonnay.  Normally, not a huge fan of white wines in general, I instantly fell in love with it’s unique flavor.  It had the buttery flavor of a Chardonnay but it was very fruit forward.  The memory of that wine stayed with me and I made sure to visit Franciscan on my next trip to Napa.

The Wall of Magnificat

The Wall of Magnificat

Franciscan is located in Oakville, right on Highway 29.   Founded over 30 years ago, Raymond Duncan and Justin Meyer were there for the beginning of this Napa stronghold, with the 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Agustin Huneeus became involved in 1985, concentrating on a commitment to small lot wine making and introducing their Bordeaux style blend, the Magnifcant.  Another two years later Franciscan made more headlines by producing the Cuve Sauvage, the first Napa Chardonnay produced fermented with wild yeast. Today, Janet Myers is Franciscan’s winemaker and has excelled in staying true to their signature: bold wines with rare combination of rich, vibrant flavors yet fine, supple texture.  Working with Mondavi and other leading vintners around the world, she has brought that knowledge to Franciscan, creating some incredible wines.       Some of my favorites: 2006 NAPA VALLEY CHARDONNAY (Rated 89 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • Appearance:  Pale lemon yellow
  • Aroma:  Pretty stone fruit and ripe pear, with lemon peel notes.  Layered aromas with enticing minerality, hints of cream and vanilla, and crisp apple undertones.

    Brett and I in the Franciscan Tasting Room

    Brett and I in the Franciscan Tasting Room

  • Flavor:   Fresh and lively, yet good richness and body.  Layered flavors of lemon and golden delicious apple, pineapple, and toasted oak.  The round mid-palate extends to a lingering crisp finish and bright citrus flavors, minerals and sweet oak.
  • Composition: 100% Chardonnay
  • Appellation:   Napa Valley
  • Oak Aging:   8 months sur lee, French and American Oak
  • Alcohol:  13.5%
  • Release Date:   December 1, 2007
  • Retail:  $18.00 USD

2007 SAUVIGNON BLANC (Rated 83 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • Appearance: Pale Yellow
  • Aroma:    Citrus, melon, and fig
  • Flavor:    Fresh and lively.  Vibrant, layered flavors of lime, lemongrass and melon with hints of minerality on a crisp, elegant finish.
  • Composition: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Appellation:   Napa Valley
  • Alcohol:   13.5%
  • Release Date:  March 1, 2008
  • Retail: $17 USD

Franciscan Winery 1178 Galleron Lane, St. Helena, CA (707)967-3830  10am-5pm Different tasting flights available, but plan for at least $15.  There are discount coupons online and at Franciscan’s website.

Franciscan Winery in Napa Valley

Franciscan Winery in Napa Valley

Old World Wines: Monmousseau 2004 Rose D’Anjou

2004 Monmousseau Rose D'Anjou

2004 Monmousseau Rose D'Anjou

Monmousseau is from the western part of the Loire Valley in France, near the city of Angers.  Monmousseau Vineyards produce a number of European varietals and honestly, I did not know anything about them really prior to purchasing this wine.  Although we are big red fans, a nice rose with the right meal is the perfect touch sometimes.  Since I could not get the wines I was hoping for in Taiwan, I opted to just pick a couple from our local wine store.

Since we were serving the Bifteki (Greek Hamburger) and I was making ours with pork, a rose seemed to be a good choice.  The Monmousseau Rose is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Groulleau.  It is known for being semi-sweet, lighter alcoholic content, and very fruit forward (the winemaker notes aromas of strawberry and cherry Twizzler).  Recommended pairings include poultry, white meat, and typically picnic type foods – this is more a traditional summer wine.

Overall, I would say it stood up to our meal, even with the strong feta cheese component.  It had a nice fruity touch, seemed to balance the acidity in the tomatoes from the Greek salad.

Pairing: Pork Bifteki, potatoes & a Greek Salad

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