Travel Lust: Bruges, Belgium

In the northwest of Belgium lies one of the most charming placed I have ever visited: Bruges. With its series of canals and gorgeous architecture, this city should make it to your next European vacation.
I was able to visit Bruge in high school as part of a school trip touring both France and Belgium. Our host, my French teacher, was a Belgian transplant- a darling and vivacious woman whom I still refer to as simply Madame.
Market Square
Madame was the perfect person to have  around because in Bruges, they speak not only French but also Flemish (Belgian Dutch). She was sure to teach us how to say, "I don't know" in Flemish and to follow up with "Do you speak French?".
A view of the Belfry from the canal
On an afternoon of free time, my mother and I took a baguette to a bridge over the canal to feed the swans. Shortly after we started throwing bread in the water, we had attracted over a dozen gorgeous birds- it was a spectacular sight!
After feeding the swans, we strolled down the cobblestone streets and were drawn into a coffee shop by its display of pastries- La Monnaie, I believe. This was no paper cup to go- they served each cup of coffee on its own silver tray with a small pitcher of cream, a couple of sugar cubes, and a cookie on small china plate. I searched everywhere for a coffee service like this when we got home; I never could find it.
Provinciaal Hof
If you want to beat the hustle and bustle of the big cities but still want history, art and charm- this is your place! Click here to see more photographs from the Bruges tourist site.

Photos from: wikipedia.com, trabel.com, chiskuzneski.com, cut-dry.blogtspot.com


Bon Appétit's Perfect Pasta

I love Italian food. If I had to pick a single cuisine to eat every day for the rest of my life- Italian would be it. I recently have subscribed to Bon Appétit Magazine and their Italy issue was the first to arrive last month. It was packed with fantastic recipes from pasta to pizza to delicious desserts- unlike most magazines, this one will earn a permanent place on my bookshelf.

My favorite article was not one focused on different recipes, but rather one teaching you basic tips to make the perfect pasta- regardless of your ingredients. To test out these tips I made one of their accompanying recipes- Pasta Al Pomodoro.
To start, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes are sauteed in olive oil until tender. Canned, whole tomatoes are then pureed, added to the pan and allowed to simmer for 20 minutes- satisfying rule #2: build the foundation- give your ingredients at least 20 minutes of cooking time. After simmering, the pan is removed from the heat and fresh basil is mixed in and allowed to steep in the hot sauce.
In the mean time, heavily salted water (rule #3) is brought to a boil and the pasta (spaghetti or bucatini) is cooked a few minutes from being al dente. Before draining the pasta, a cup of the cooking liquid is reserved (rule #4) to add back to the sauce. The basil is removed, the pasta water is added and the mixture is brought to a simmer before adding the almost cooked pasta back to the pan (rule #1). The pasta gets tossed with a pair of tongs (rule #5) until it's thoroughly coated and it's cooked until the pasta is al denta (rule #6).
Now, butter and freshly grated cheese are added to the pasta to add additional flavor and a great sheen (rule #7 & #8) before being carefully presented in a pasta bowl (rule #9).
This pasta was excellent! The taste was so authentic and it was very easy to prepare- using the rules along with a provided recipe helped when coming up with my own pasta dish. This leads me to rule #10- practice makes perfect. You could always practice using the other three pasta recipes provided at the end of the article- cacio  e pepe, spaghetti vongole, or pasta with gold tomoatoes- but I decided to try my hand at my own recipe.
I shall call it Pasta con Broccolini e Pomodori. Sorry, my pasta names are less than creative. I wanted a dish with bright, fresh flavors that could be served at room temperature. Broccolini and tomatoes are a great combination and lemon juice really brightens up the dish- perfect for outdoor dining.

I started by sauteeing a shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil for a few minutes before adding the broccolini. After the broccolini had cooked a little I added some sliced cherry tomatoes and cooked everything until the broccolini was tender and the tomatoes had softened.

While the saute pan was going, I cooked some bucatini (like fat spaghetti with a hole down the center) and reserved some of the pasta water. Just as in the previous recipe, I added pasta water and the pasta back to the pan and sauteed it until it was al dente and coated in the pan sauce. Then, in addition to  butter and grated cheese, I squeezed the juice of one lemon over top. I might have broken rule #9 for this recipe- it didn't go into a lovely pasta bowl but rather a to go container. This was the perfect dish to take to Utica Square to listen to some music and share some food and wine with friends!
What pasta masterpiece will you create with these tips to making a perfect pasta?

Pasta con Broccolini e Pomodori
12 oz bucatini or spaghetti
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 bunch broccolini
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 tbs butter
1 lemon
  •  Heat the olive oil over medium-low. Add the shallot and garlic and saute 3 min. Add in pepper flakes and saute 1 min more. Add broccolini to pan and increase the heat to medium. Cook about 5 min then add tomatoes, continuing to cook until broccolini is tender and tomatoes have softened. Remove from the heat.
  • In the mean time, bring water to a boil and heavily salt. Cook pasta 2 min from al dente according to packge and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Drain pasta.
  • Add cooking liquid to saute pan and bring to boil. Add pasta and toss with tongs until coated. Cook until pasta al dente- a few minutes. Remove from heat and melt in butter and cheese. Squirt juice from one lemon over pasta and toss. For additional lemon flavor, add zest from 1/2-1 lemon. Serve and enjoy!
Pasta al Pomodoro
By Bon Appétit Test Kitchen
Serves 4


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 oz. can peeled tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large fresh basil sprigs
  • 12 oz. bucatini or spaghetti
  • 2 Tbsp. cubed unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino


  • Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium-low heat. Add minced onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2-4 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium, add puréed tomatoes and season lightly with kosher salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir in basil sprigs, and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season with salt; add spaghetti or bucatini and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
  • Discard basil and heat skillet over high heat. Stir in reserved pasta water to loosen sauce; bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat; add butter and cheese; toss until cheese melts. Transfer to warm bowls; serve with more cheese, if desired.


Ciao, Pesto!

I have many great memories of my time in Rome- a good number involve food, no doubt. When we weren't traveling, weekend nights were spent at our friends' apartment; we talked and laughed into the wee hours of the night with our new-found friends abroad while enjoying a big jug of wine and a great antipasto platter.
In the evening, we would stroll down the cobble stone streets to the GS, Rome's grocery store chain, and pick up an assortment of prosciutto, salami and other cured meats, olives, cheeses and some crusty bread. Though each component was amazing, my favorite part of our antipasto was the pesto- none of that jarred stuff, in Rome it comes fresh! You could walk back to the deli counter and ask them to fill up as big of a container as you would like with beautiful, dark green pesto. It had the perfect mixture of basil, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil with a heavy amount of parmesan to give it a nice bite. Needless to say, I miss it terribly and have been searching ever since for something comparable.
Enter: Stonehorse Market- located behind the Stonehorse Cafe in Utica Square. This was the first time that I had stepped into their market- open Tuesday through Saturday 10am-7pm. Loaded with goodies from meats, cheeses and a fully stocked salad bar to prepared soups, sauces and sandwiches. Visit this article for more details on this little gem! I hadn't planned on buying anything this visit until something caught my eye. In the freezer I saw tub filled with dark green sauce simply labeled "pesto"- and for only $5. This could be exactly what I have been looking for!

After the pesto thawed, I was ready to dig in. I served it just as we did in Rome- with crusty bread for dipping and some fresh mozzarella. Upon first bite, I was transported back to the Eternal City- just as in Rome, you could taste each of the delicious ingredients down to the parmesan. I had found my pesto!
After the antipasto, the pesto then went onto some pasta for a simple dinner and the next day I spread it onto the crusty bread with mozzarella and tomatoes for a tasty sandwich. But pesto doesn't stop there- you can add it to pizza, soups, gnocchi, meats or fish!

If you love pesto, I recommend stocking up on Stonehorse Market's. I don't know if it's something they carry all the time but I'm sure I will find out! If you're not able to make it to Stonehorse, check out these recipes for making your own and some great ideas for how to use your pesto:
Stonehorse Café on Urbanspoon