Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

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Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part I

There isn’t much about Torino (Turin) not to love. We recently had the pleasure of spending 5 days in the former Italian capital and I have so much to say about it that I have decided to split this post into a few parts. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of cultural, culinary and artistic activities to take part in, Torino is definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

Before I dig deeper into what to do, what to eat (a LOT) and where to go, I present a visual journey through this amazing northern Italian city where the alpine views are as impressive as the city itself.

 

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Wise words. I suggestion you follow them! 

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MMMMMMM!! Gelato as far as the eye can see (and stomach can handle)

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Like pasta? Like it A LOT?

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Rent-a-bike for an hour or a day – available throughout the entire city

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When you are a pig and forget to take a stylised photo of your food before you dig in. I swear, nothing tasted bad in Torino!

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Chocolate shoes! Know someone that would like these?
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Obligatory Juventus photo!

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Thank you, Torino, for such a memorable vacation. I will expand upon these photos soon but for now, you live in my heart and memory!!! I can’t wait to return 🙂

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

What to do this Weekend: Street Food Festival Lausanne

I don’t even know where to start explaining what a good idea a street food festival is. With something for everyone, ranging from vegan cuisine to cocktails to the ultimate in BBQ eats, street food festivals are a great place to try a lot of different foods in a festive atmosphere. We recently took a tour around the Lausanne Street Food Festival and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d put together a a photo tour of our night of tasting, laughing and fun. If you are in Lausanne this weekend, you can enjoy the festival tonight, Saturday 30th April (even with the rain) or all day tomorrow (1st May from 11h00-20h00).  Entry is free but bring cash and an open mind to try as many things as you can!!  Some of the cocktail stands and bigger food trucks accept payment by credit/Maestro cards but I think you are safer assuming you will need to bring real money with you 😉

Good to know: The festival is definitely family-friendly.

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Ha!
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Fish burgers and more!
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The gourmet hot dog stand!
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Yours truly sampling a hot dog with Japanese bbq sauce, coleslaw and chips!
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Fresh chips/crisps made on site!
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My daughter checking out the donut stand
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Smoked salmon (made on site)
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My son was happy with this1
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See? Happy!
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Aperol. I love you.
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Long shot down one side of the festival
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For the vegetarians (and vegetarian-friendly folk 😉 )
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YES!!!! Arepas and tequeños! Love Venezeulan food!
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Upcoming tour dates for Switzerland
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BBQ Burgers
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Mountains, lake, sunshine, food, drinks…bliss!
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Lots of places to lounge, talk and eat on the lawn
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The bars were particularly busy !

 

Thanks for the memories, Lausanne! We’ll be back next year!

PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Raclette

When I first moved to France, I remember my husband saying to me that he was a big fan of something called raclette. Truthfully, I had no idea what it was but he described it as “meal of primarily melted cheese.” Considering my deep love affair with cheese fondue, I figure this could only be a good thing. My very first experience with raclette was in the lovely French town of Strasbourg where I went to the MOST amazing restaurant for cheese lovers: La Cloche à Fromage by René Tourette. This is where I discovered that raclette was indeed “melted cheese” but holy moly it was also SO MUCH MORE!

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The action of scraping the melted raclette onto bread…*drool* 

What IS Raclette: 
Raclette (pronounced: rack-let) is a type of semi-firm cheese, primarily made with cow’s milk ,with Swiss-German origins.  The name raclette derives from the French verb racler, meaning “to scrape.” By some accounts, raclette has been documented in Swiss texts dating back as far as the late 1200s. A typically wheel-shaped cheese, raclette started as peasant food that provided farmers a wealth of calories, protein and warmth at the end of the day. It was originally heated by fire and scraped off onto starchier foods such as bread and potatoes.  Other than the development of electric heating sources and raclette parties, not much has changed since the early humble origins of raclette other than the fact that very few would refer to it as peasant food anymore!

How To Eat Raclette:
Extremely popular throughout France and Switzerland, raclette can be found in many mountain restaurants, warming up skiers after a snowy day on the pistes. If this isn’t within you reach, you can always have raclette at home, although I do encourage you to try the classic ‘mountain chalet post-ski alpine raclette’ indulgence at least once in your life. You can thank me later!

Modern raclette is served in homes primarily using a modern table top electric grill with tiny cheese pans called coupelles. Raclette is served at the table pre-sliced and ready for melting. There are many modern varieties of raclette so feel free to serve a tasting platter of different raclette if you feel adventurous. My daughter LOVES the sheep/brébis version and my son loves the one with added dried chili flakes. I heavily favour the extra creamy version and Mr H often reaches for the peppercorn and garlic varieties. Common accompaniments are: small boiled potatoes, assortment of pickles/gherkins (the sour kind, not the sweet) and dried meats/charcuterie. If you are less into the dried meat part, like me, feel free to add a large salad with vinaigrette and sliced vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms and zucchini/courgette.

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Modern table top raclette grill

Raclette is a self-serve meal that evokes a lot of conversation and fun. I know purists who melt their cheese and pour it only onto their boiled potatoes and I know others that get creative and put dried meats and pickles in their coupelles and heat it all together. This is where your creativity can take over! I like to grill veggies on the top grill and eat together with the melted raclette. Pure bliss!

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Raclette serving options

What to Drink with Raclette:
Hands down, I am a red wine drinker. It is my go to when having a glass at night or when dining with friends. That said, I have spent the last ten+ years between France and now Switzerland and I have learned that white wine does pair better with cheese than red. There, I said it. It pained me to admit that a few years ago as I was very anti-white wine, but I have changed 😉

With raclette, a dry white is what you are looking for. You don’t want a white that overpowers the cheese’s natural flavours. If you are in Switzerland, I would look for the 2015 World Champion Chasselas La Grand’Rue Chasselas Reserve. Trust me, I’ve done a a lot of ‘research’ on this and Swiss cheese and Swiss wine make a perfect pairing!! If you are elsewhere, any light, low acidity, dry white will work. IF you are a staunch red wine drinker, try a pinot noir or other light, dry red. You don’t want something so heavy that it takes away from the cheese. For an added twist, try chilling your wine first.

At the end of your meal, if you wish to have a truly Swiss experience, try serving a small shot of cherry kirsch. Similar to the le coup du milieu that traditionally accompanies a cheese fondue, a shot of kirsch is believed to help break down the fats in the cheese and allow you to digest your meal better. I heavily question the ‘science’ here but who am I to challenge another culture’s traditions? When in Switzerland…!

In addition to wine and spirits, it is quite common to find people in Switzerland having a hot beverage such as tea or a tisane with raclette. Mint tea at the end of the meal is often offered to help digest.

Final Thoughts:
When choosing to host a raclette party or make raclette at home, remember that this is meant to be a social meal that lasts for quite some time. Raclette dining is one of the few things where the Swiss seem to forgo schedules and just allow the evening to unfold. Eat slowly, take pauses, enjoy some fine wine, or a hot tea like you would in a rustic, traditional chalet. Don’t rush eating a lot of cheese or you might pay for it later! The modern grill machines with the tiny coupelles allow you to pace yourself with small tastes at a time. Above all else, enjoy!

Photo credit: Fotolia

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Perfecting Cheese Fondue

Cheese. Where do I even begin to explain my love for cheese!? At this point in my life, I think I would give up almost all other foods if I could live on cheese and not look like big old Brie! So, it should come as no surprise that life in Paris was pretty chock-full of cheese samples. I discovered new and amazing ones that I had never heard of before like Vacherin Mont d’Or. I also discovered some that even I couldn’t wrap my cheese-loving taste buds around (sorry to my beloved Kiwi and the ‘farm cheese’ she introduced me to). Then we relocated to Switzerland and the cheese boat I was cruising along got a welcome shake up. New names, new textures and new tastes…oh my!

So here we are. Knee deep into our new life in Switzerland where the nights are getting colder, the fireplace has been on a few times already and in this part of the world, the cheese sections at the markets and grocery stores have quadrupled in size.  I kid you not, on the first of October every store turned into an enabler for cheese-addicts everywhere. Fondue pots. Raclette machines. Recipes.  Samples. Pre-mixed cheese blends. Offers to discover for free ‘your perfect fondue blend’ screaming at me. MY PERFECT BLEND??? I couldn’t live another day without knowing what that meant! I NEEDED to know what my perfect blend was! Thus, I didn’t just dabble into this new Swiss world of fondue, I leapt. Head first. With a crusty baguette and fork in hand!

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Fondue pots on sale at the local post office!

I can now say after much consideration that I am a classic “moitié-moitié” person – half Gruyère AOP and half Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP. BLISS!

Such the fan that I have become, I have been perfecting making fondue moitié-moitié at home. The juniors and Mr H have not complained once 😉 Quelle surprise!  Thus I give you my person, and my perfect version, of moitié-moitié.

Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!
Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!

Cheese Fondue moitié-moitié

Serves 4

  • 400 grams of Gruyère AOP, grated
  • 400 grams of Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 300- 400 ml dry white wine (or you can use vegetable stock, alcohol-free wine, water or a mix of wine and other depending on your preferences)
  • 15g/1tbsp fécule (potato flour)
  • nutmeg
  • pepper
  • kirsch, optional (I prefer cherry)
  • day old baguette

Rub your fondue pot all over with the garlic clove. This seasons the pot lightly and is a step heaped in tradition which is considered crucial here in Switzerland. What you do with the clove after is up to you. You can either finely mince it up with a knife or a garlic press and use it in your fondue or leave it out. I use it. Life without garlic makes zero sense to me.

Next, mix your cheese and potato flour together in the pot. Add 300ml of the wine/stock and garlic, if using, and heat over a medium temperature (save the extra liquid to thin out your mixture if it is too thick). STIR CONSTANTLY. This doesn’t mean leave it for 10 mins and stir it. It means constantly. It doesn’t take long to melt down so don’t worry about hours spent slaving over the hob. Once the cheese has started to melt, I add pepper and nutmeg to taste. When all the ingredients have come together to form an amazing pot of melted bliss, add the shot of kirsch, stir and serve.

Now, fondue isn’t just dip bread and eat. You must know that you will have to stir constantly with a spatula throughout your meal. There are some social taboos on this, the one we have seen most consistently is to stir in a figure 8 pattern. NEVER stir when someone has their bread dipped, this is considered rude. One person dips at a time and doesn’t eat off of the long for but rather, slides their gooey cheesy bread onto their plate and eats with their own fork. Don’t double-dip. Ever.

Can you taste it?
Can you taste it?

Some household rules we have adopted include:

  • giving a kiss to someone at the table if you drop your bread into the pot
  • le coup du milieu which is basically a shot of kirsch taken at the midpoint (yes, a shot) to help aid the digestion of the cheese
  • the egg – before the fondue has melted all the way down to the bottom of the pot, crack in an egg and stir. It thins out the mixture, extends the life a bit and gives a new flavour boost to the mixture
  • la religieuse – I feel like my life wasn’t complete until I discovered la religieuse (translated into nun in English but let’s ignore that). At the end of the meal, 99% of the time when you have finished all the amazing fondue you are left with a golden brown crust. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT or pour water all over to soak it off. Instead, carefully, using just a normal butter knife or something similar, try to pry this off the bottom of the pan. You are left with a salty, crispy treat that ends the meal in a perfect way! YUM!
  • I serve with pickles/gherkins (not the sweet kind), a VERY large salad with vinaigrette and my family likes a plate of charcuterie such as salami, cured hams, etc. I don’t partake in that but to each their own!

So, that’s it. It isn’t complicated but it IS delicious!! Feel free to adapt and play with the recipe. That’s part of the fun here! Remember, though, this is a very heavy meal. It is rarely finished with dessert other than some fresh fruit or something else very light. Please, no chocolate fondue to finish the night off. Swiss heads would roll!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia