Taste & Travel Blog

In my Taste & Travel Blog, I share with you my passion for food & travel, including recipes and food-oriented trips to (mostly) France, the gastronomic capital of the world.  The key to good food starts with good ingredients.  The highest quality, and best-tasting, ingredients are those that are locally grown and produced.

market_foundationFarm_lgAn abundant array of vegetables produced from my husband’s organic farm in Northwest Arkansas, Foundation Farm

 

Twice-baked potatoes with parsnip, carrot, cilantro & Gruyère

Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 in Recipes by Karen Gros | 0 comments

Twice-baked potatoes with parsnip, carrot, cilantro & Gruyère

An interesting twist on twice-baked potatoes ~ coriander and cilantro bring out the earthy sweetness of the parsnips, a sadly under appreciated vegetable.  The whole combines wonderfully with nutty Gruyère.  This dish makes a lovely addition to any Thanksgiving table, and can be served year round.

Recipe by Karen Gros.

Serves 8

1 cup homemade crème fraîche: 1 cup heavy whipping cream + 4 tablespoons whole-milk plain yogurt
4 large Idaho Russet baking potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
4 slices naturally-cured pork bacon
1 yellow onion, diced
Pinch of salt
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon ground coriander
Freshly grated nutmeg (about 12 grinds)
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 carrots
2 parsnips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cup grated Gruyère cheese
⅔ cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

  1. Prepare the crème fraiche several days in advance: Whisk the yogurt into the cream, cover with plastic and let sit in a warm spot at room temperature for 24 hours, stir, then refrigerate overnight prior to use.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash & scrub potatoes, and dry them well. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise, and brush both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, face down on the parchment paper, for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sauté the bacon in a dry skillet, covered, until cooked through and somewhat crispy. Remove from pan to a paper towel-lined plate. Once bacon cools, chop it coarsely into ‘bacon bits’. Saute the onions in the bacon drippings, sprinkle with salt, covering slightly to sweat. Cook about 5 minutes or so until soft and transluscent; add the minced garlic, cook 2 minutes. Add the ground coriander and freshly grated nutmeg, good pinch of cayenne, and freshly ground pepper. Cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the stock to deglaze; bring to a brief boil, scrapping the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer until liquid reduces slightly, but still amply covering the onions. Set aside until needed.
  4. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Once the potatoes are done, increase oven temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the carrots. Peel and core the parsnips (core is tough and fibrous), and cut them 1-inch chunks. Toss the carrots & parsnips with the melted butter, and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft. Shake pan and toss after 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  5. Remove the potato flesh while still warm: Slice around the edge of each potato skin, leaving ¼-inch border of potato on the sides and bottom of skin, and scoop out interiors. Mash the potatoes coarsely with a large fork, incorporating the 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons of olive oil; sprinkle generously with salt. Set aside.
  6. Place the cooked carrots, parsnips, and onion-stock mixture in the bowl of a food processor, and puree until completely blended. Mixture will thicken as liquid is absorbed into parsnips. Stir mixture into the mashed potatos, add 1 cup of the grated cheese and the chopped cilantro.
  7. Drizzle olive oil into each potato skin, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place approximately one-half cup of filling into each skin, and top with the bacon and reserved cheese. Bake 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraîche, if desired.
  8. To reheat as leftovers, place in a baking dish with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover dish with foil and bake 30 minutes in a non-preheated oven at 300 degrees.

potato twice baked2

Gallo-Roman Vaison-la-Romaine

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in The South of France, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Gallo-Roman Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine was inhabited during the Bronze Age, and in the 4th-century BC, the upper city of Vaison became the capital for a Celtic tribe.

A place of vital significance in the early history of Provence, Vaision-la-Romaine extends on both sides of the river Ouvèze, with an upper self-contained medieval quarter with the look and character of a hill-village.  

From the 18th-century, most of the town had moved back down to the plains by the river, thus forming the “new” town.

vaison la romaineThe Ouvèze River flows between the low-lying new town of Vaison and the rocky spur on which the medieval settlement, characterized by its fortress-like houses, is built.

 

vaison_pont Roman
The Pont Roman leading to the “new” town spans the Ouvèze River.  The single arch bridge was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD.  It is still in use, and has survived severe flooding that swept away some more recent bridges.

 

roman latrines
Many interesting details of daily life, such as the public latrines that were built inside a private mansion, have been uncovered at the Roman site of Puymin.

 

chateau Comtes Toulouse
Standing exposed on its bare rock summit is the imposing shell of the castle of the Counts of Toulouse, from the terrace of which you can fully appreciate the beauty of Mont Ventoux (not shown), capped by its white limestone crest which creates the illusion of perpetual snow.

 

Medieval high cityEncircled by fragments of its medieval walls, its many cedars giving it a certain Tuscan character, this is a place of tranquility and slightly decayed charm which contrasts with the bustle of the lower town.

 

vaision_haute_ville
The charming fountain near the belfry in the medieval upper town, today home to about 50 inhabitants and as many art galleries.

Experience Provence as an insider, as you live in a traditionally-built house for 7 nights.  We have two houses for our use, positioned next door to each other, with a similar blueprint. Each three-bedroom home has a private terrace & swimming pool, washing machine and dryer, dishwasher, fully equipped kitchen, garden lounge chairs, and barbeque grill.   Below outlines bed & bath arrangement for each house.

vaison houses1House #1
This home, suitable for up to 4 people, has three-bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two toilets with lavatory.  The bedrooms are located upstairs.  Bedroom 1 and Bedroom 2 each contain a queen-sized bed.  Bedroom 3 contains two sets of bunk beds (4 twins), and will not be utilized during the tour. 
There are two bathrooms, both located upstairs:  one features a single lavatory and bathtub with handheld shower wand in traditional Provencal style, while the other features only a walk-in shower.   In typical European style, the toilets are separate from the bathrooms; one toilet upstairs and one downstairs.  This home is ideal for 2 single travelers or 2 couples traveling together.

 

Olivier
House #2
This home, suitable for up to 6 people, has three-bedrooms, three bathrooms, and two toilets with small lavatory.  Bedroom 1 is downstairs with a queen-sized bed and ensuite bathroom featuring a single lavatory and walk-in shower.  Bedroom 2 is upstairs with a queen-sized bed and separate bathroom featuring a double lavatory and bathtub with handheld shower wand.  Bedroom 3 is also upstairs with a two single beds (twins) and ensuite bathroom featuring a single lavatory and walk-in shower.  In typical European style, the toilets are separate from the bathrooms; one toilet upstairs and one downstairs (please note:  Bedrooms 2 and 3 share the toilet located in the hall.)  Bedrooms 1 and 2 are ideal for couples, while Bedroom 3 is best for single travelers.  

 

Olivier1
House #2; view of the 13th-century castle with its flag waving proudly in the breeze

10 Days in Provence with Karen Gros

 

Seaside town of Cassis

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in The South of France, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Seaside town of Cassis

“One who has seen Paris, but not Cassis, has seen nothing!” (“Qui a vu Paris, et non Cassis, n’a rien vu!”) – Provençal writer Alexandre Dumas

Located in the département of the Var, the seaside gem of Cassis (not to be confused with crème de cassis, a specialty of Burgundy which takes its name from the French word for black currants) sits on the Mediterranean coast about 12 miles east of Marseille.

The village encompasses rolling hills of picturesque vineyards which descend into a scenic port.

cassis

Cassis produces its own wines, white and rosé, from the surrounding vineyards, but is perhaps most famous for the spectacular Calanques, the sinous series of wild fjords and rocky limestone cliffs following the coastline from Marseille.  We will visit the most beautiful Calanques by boat:  Port-Miou , Port-Pin, En-Vau, and l’Oule ~ all but Port Miou are accessible only by boat or on foot.

boat outing
Aboard our private boat Nousnous (“Teddy bear”) in the port of Cassis

calanques
Picturesque Port Miou

en vauThe striking calanque of En Vau, a favorite beach of hikers and day-trippers.

lavila
The contemporary villa in Cassis offer luxurious rooms with ensuite bathrooms.

10 Days in Provence with Karen Gros

Athens, Greece

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Greece: Athens & the Greek isles, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Athens, Greece

Home to the most important ancient monument in the Western world, Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with a recorded history spanning around 3,400 years.  

Athens is considered to be the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.  

Join me in this lively and vivacious city as we explore our past, all the while relishing a culinary journey every step of the way.

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Our friends in Sifnos recommended our hotel in Athens, their preferred choice when in town.  Centrally located in the heart of the Old City of Plaka and the Acropolis, the modern hotel has been completed renovated.  All rooms are designed to meet the highest standards of accommodation with your comfort in mind, and feature upscale furnishing and decoration. The hotel terrace, available to you for breakfast or an evening cocktail, offers a stunning view of the Acropolis.

hotel terrace view
The hotel terrace and its magnificent view

TempleZeus_med
The Temple of Zeus

The Acropolis Museum is utterly beautiful.  We plan to visit the museum first, and then see it come to life afterwards as we walk the grounds of the Acropolis having seen first-hand the masterpieces it once contained.

acropolis museum1
Terracotta statuettes from the south slope of the Acropolis, 
possibly decorative elements (acroteria) from the roof of a building.
1st-3rd cent. AD (Acr. 6476, 6476a) 
Photo courtesy of Acropolis Museum

akroterion_parthenon
Central akroterion of the Parthenon roof (Photo courtesy of Acropolis Museum)

athens_terraceResto med
Roof top dining in Athens provides a 360-degree view ~ simply breathtaking!

Athens_food
Dining on the street provides some of the most authentic food around
Photo courtesy of Culinary Backstreets

 

Culinary Journey to Greece

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Greece: Athens & the Greek isles, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Culinary Journey to Greece

It is said that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world.  In the Mediterranean, the people say that the Greeks have the healthiest diet.  It surely has something to do with olives, fish, vegetables and herbs…

Join me on an exciting culinary journey to Greece, where authentic dishes such as these await your palate …

Athens_souvlaki
With our culinary guide we’ll track down the best souvlaki in Athens
Photo courtesy of Culinary Backstreets

 

Greekksalad_sifnos_medEach time you order a Greek salad, they will ask if you want feta (from Crete) or the local island cheese.
This is a Greek salad with Sifnos cheese.

Greeksalad_feta_med
Greek salad with feta from Crete

chickpeas_squid_beet med
Fresh squid with chickpeas and beetroot purée ~ out of this world!

bakedFeta_med
Baked feta at the roof-top restaurant in Athens

honeyCake_medA honey cheesecake made with local goat cheese from the island of Sifnos, along with almond meal ~ delicious!

baklava_med
You know what this is, right?  The delicate layers are light and airy, the honey & walnut is lightly perfumed with rose

yogurt_med
Thick & creamy Greek yogurt smothered in island honey ~ this is the real thing!

athens_food_mkt
The bounty of the food market in Athens
Photo courtesy of Culinary Backstreets

Santorini island, Greece

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Greece: Athens & the Greek isles, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Santorini island, Greece

No doubt the most visually stunning and dramatic Greek island, Santorini is at both elegant and charming.  Voted as the world’s best island for 2011 by the readers of Travel & Leisure, this Cycladic Island offers one of the Aegean’s most unusual landscapes.  The island’s official name is Thira, although the medieval name – a corruption of “St. Irene”, left behind by the Italians – is most commonly used today.

With its unique blend of sulphur, salt and water, 120 miles southwest of mainland Greece, Santorini is the world’s largest inhabited caldera (a cauldron-like feature from the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption.)  Thirty-six varieties of grape grow in the rich volcanic soil from which Santorini produces delightful white.

santorini fira1
Fira (or Thira, Thera, Fera) capital of Santorini

santorini white church

One of the highlights is the family-run boutique hotel set on picturesque cliffs with direct panoramic views of Fira’s stunning caldera, a unique haven for you tucked away from the bustle of the town center.  Surprisingly quiet and luxuriously private, this historical building, dated to the 1830s, is a great base from which to explore the island and is only a 2 minute walk from Fira centre with its bustling lanes and eateries.  All four en-suite rooms offer original architectural features and are light and air-conditioned. Lovely restored, they are furnished with antiques and family heirlooms for that personal touch, not forgetting elegant, modern fittings and luxury bedding for the discerning traveller.

Looking out to sea, the private rooftop terrace is only one of the several open spaces where guests can enjoy a healthy homemade breakfast and cups of freshly brewed Greek coffee.  

roof top view of calderaView of the caldera and volcano from our hotel terrace

 

santorini terrace breakfast
Snacks on our terrace overlooking the caldera 

santorini sunset fira
Sunset from our terrace

Greek island of Sifnos

Posted by on Sep 7, 2014 in Greece: Athens & the Greek isles, Travel with Karen | 0 comments

Greek island of Sifnos

Welcome to the quiet island of Sifnos.  A small, hilly island popular with walkers and known for its pottery, poets, and chefs, Sifnos offers charming villages to explore, and terraced countryside dotted with ancient towers to roam.  In ancient times, Sifnos was renowned for its gold mines.  The islanders paid yearly homage to the Delphic sanctuary of Apollo with a solid gold egg.  One year they sent a gilded rock instead, incurring Apollo’s curse.  The gold mines were flooded, and the island became ruined; and from then on was known as sifnos, meaning “empty.”

sifnosVillages of white-washed houses await exploration, while countryside drives promise terraces of olive groves and wild thyme.

Going truly local to experience Greek island life as an “insider,” you have the unique opportunity to reside in your own home (considering this is a tour).  The five independent apartments in which we will stay are located in the village of Apollonia, and were built by our hosts Stavros and Sarah.  The name of the apartments takes its name from the Greek word meaning olive grove, and the apartments were designed to incorporate the existing olive trees, which are still harvested today for their olive oil.  The five independent houses, built in traditional Cycladic style, are positioned in a quiet but central location amongst the olive terraces and gardens

sifnos apartmentsThe white entrance path leading to the apartments nestled amongst olive trees

The apartments are decorated in a serene, almost monastic style echoing the Greek way.  Each apartment features a one bedroom with a queen-sized bed, bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, air-conditioning and separate living/dining room with stone sofa beds.  Each apartment has at least one large private veranda with superb views of either the Aegean Sea or the villages and mountains surrounding Apollonia.  The apartments are a short 5-10 minute walk to Apollonia’s restaurants, shops and bars.

apollonia_stairs_med
Stairs leading to a home in Apollonia

Agios AndreasThe Archaeological site of Agios Andreas reveals an ancient Mycenaean acropolis.
Its stark white church of the same name rises above the ruins.

vathy_water2_med
The tranquil beach at the village of Vathy ~ the enclosed bay looks out to the island of Kimolos

fishing village of HeronissosRemote fishing village of Heronissos ~ the edge of the world

fish restaurant
Dine on the water at a restaurant owned by a family of fishermen

Classic French dark chocolate truffles

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Recipes by Karen Gros | 0 comments

Classic French dark chocolate truffles

These truffles are inspired by the dark chocolate truffles served with coffee after lunch at Le Flore en l’île, a beautiful restaurant and tea salon on the Île Saint-Louis with a magnificent rear view of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (and those flying buttresses!)  They also happen to resemble those from the legendary chocolate makers at La Maison du Chocolat.  Known as les truffes in France, they are so named due to their resemblance to the savory truffle.

Recipe by Karen Gros

Makes approximately 50 (1/2-inch) truffles 

Ingredients:

⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 ounces Lindt 70% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces Valrhona 72% dark chocolate couverture

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ tablespoons honey
3/4 cup Valrhona cocoa, dusting

Equipment:  Rimmed baking sheet, waxed paper

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Scald the cream, and pour over the chocolate.  Cover, and let sit 10 minutes until melted.  Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  2. Add the softened butter, honey, and vanilla paste; stir until well blended.
  3. Set the bowl of chocolate in the bowl of ice water; stir, scrapping sides continuously, until chocolate is just firm enough to shape into small balls.  Remove from ice water.
  4. Place the cocoa in a Ziploc bag.  Shape the truffles into ½-inch balls, and drop into the cocoa (several may be done at once).  Gently rotate bag until truffles are well coated, and place on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (and up to overnight).
  5. Shake baking sheet to remove excess cocoa.  If desired, gently roll truffles in paper towels to eliminate further excess cocoa.
  6. Package in ¼-ounce bags and keep chilled.  Truffles will keep 2-3 weeks.

Sources:  Arizona Vanilla Company, a specialty purveyor of high quality vanilla beans, pure vanilla extracts, pure ground vanilla, vanilla paste, and more.

truffles_KG_med

Snickerdoodles

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Recipes by Karen Gros | 0 comments

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles occupy a special place in my memory, as this was the cookie that my mom would bake and send to me wrapped in waxed paper and packed in a Christmas tin when I was in college in California, a long way from home in Oklahoma.  A popular Southern favorite cookie, the snickerdoodle is basically a soft sugar cookie rolled in a cinnamon-sugar mixture prior to baking.  The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word Schneckennudeln (“snail noodles”), a kind of pastry.  I have modified the recipe to omit the use of margarine and reduce the amount of sugar, as it is possible to successfully reduce the quantity of sugar in any recipe by one-third without changing the consistency.  We find the taste more agreeable too, and in-line with the general trend away from overly sweet baked goods.  

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

Makes approximately 5-dozen (2-inch) cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 eggs
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Equipment:  Parchment paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  (or 375°F Convect Bake cycle).  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream butter until smooth; add sugars, and mix until smooth, scraping occasionally.  Beat in eggs.  Whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; and blend with the butter-sugar mixture, using the paddle of an electric mixer (or mix by hand, the old-fashioned way).  Shape into 1-inch balls.
  3. Whisk the ¼ cup of sugar and the cinnamon in a shallow bowl.  Rolls the balls of dough in the mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set.  Remove cookies to a baking rack to cool.
snickerdoodles

Classic all-butter Snickerdoodles with 1/3 less sugar

Brown sugar chocolate chip cookies

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Recipes by Karen Gros | 0 comments

Brown sugar chocolate chip cookies

This cookie recipe, one of the world’s best, was used by Martha Stewart’s daughter Alexis, and are hence named “Alexis’s Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies” in Martha Stewart’s Entertaining cookbook.  I have modified the recipe to reduce the amount of sugar, as it is possible to successfully reduce the quantity of sugar in any recipe by one-third without changing the outcome.  We find the taste more agreeable too, as we prefer to avoid overly sweet baked goods.  The high butter ratio creates cookies that spread thinly, and gives a toffee-like quality.  The recipe makes 2-1/2 dozen large cookies or about 6 dozen regular-sized cookies, plenty to satisfy all – be forewarned, they will go fast!

Ingredients:

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups dehydrated whole cane juice, such as Sucanat or Rapadura, or brown sugar
⅔ cup granulated white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ cups Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Equipment:  Parchment paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.  (or 350°F Convect Bake cycle).  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream butter until smooth; add sugars, and mix until smooth, scraping occasionally.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Sift flour, salt, and baking soda.  Stir chocolate chips and pecans into dry mixture, and blend with the butter-sugar mixture, using the paddle of an electric mixer (or mix by hand, the old-fashioned way).
  3. For 4-inch cookies, drop 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter onto the parchment-lined baking sheets.  For 2-inch cookies, drop 1-inch mounds of batter 2-inches apart (approx. 12 per sheet).
  4. For chewy cookies, bake approximately 8 minutes, until center of cookies are set, but not too firm.  For crispy cookies, bake 10 minutes until well set and lightly browned; do not allow cookies to become dark brown.
  5. Remove parchment sheet onto heatproof surface; allow chewy cookies to sit up to a minute before removing to a baking rack.  Remove crispy cookies to baking rack immediately.
chocolatechipcookies

Brown sugar chocolate chip cookies with pecans baked to the chewy stage