We flew into Larnaca. Rhymes with Narnia and it was something like a fantasy world at first. From Lanaca on the East side of the island we travelled West to Kouklia where we were hosted by a charming couple who served as our tour guides to historical digs, museums, craft markets, the most wonderfully ’typical” restaurants and tavernas and wineries as well as beaches and sites of distinction.
Talking about wine, the volcanic nature of the soil here makes for some delicious drinking ( and beautiful black sand beaches!) from crisp whites, to pleasing roses to a spectrum of delightfully different and distinctive reds. Grapes that are typical to Cypriot wines include Maratheftiko, Mavro,and Commandaria for reds. For whites Xinisteri may be the most popular. Grand dads, for the most part, gather around a strong glass of OUZO , an aperitif made from the fennel plant.
In a wet spring, such as we experienced in March, the countryside explodes with a carpet of wildflowers….Cupid’s Dart, Nigella, Tulips, Chrysantheum, Cyclamen, Fennel, Rosemary , Thyme and a million different flowers I have no name for….all blooming freely and making the tastiest fodder for the local sheep, goats and cows. You can taste it in the cheeses, honey and yoghurt.
Cyprus is a bread basket, a self sustaining island that does not need to import much so, in fact, it offers beautiful and well priced meats, cereals, dairy, fruit and produce all from “right here.” There is an abundance of fresh and farmed fish, including sea bass and sea bream, calamari and octopus . We enjoyed these offerings in a variety of different preparations. Outdoor grilling is great fun and perfect for whole fish stuffed with lemon and herbs.
Because of the heat of the summer, bread, pastries and long cooked stews (like the famous Kleftiko) are often cooked outside of the home in clay ovens sometimes called Tandoors. Sometimes a special earthenware vessel , or tava, is used for long cooking. It’s a type of red ware.used since ancient times in Cyprus. As a historical aside, the name Kleftiko is rooted in the the word KLEPHT, which means stolen…the word kleptomaniac comes from this word. The mountain rebels from the Greek Revolution or Klephts often cooked their food underground to prevent it form either being stolen or lets the smoke and steam give away their strategic positions.
Pastries, too many to discuss here but were incredibly different and delicious, often made with their world famous Cypriot honey. Oranges also factor into the pastry lineup….we found one dessert made with phyllo dough, oranges and honey for the win! Citrus was growing everywhere and we even spend a day making a bitter orange marmalade.
Dairy: who knew that ice cream was a “thing” in Cyprus? Because of the sweltering summers, it has gotten to be incredibly popular over the last 100 years and unusually rich, a favorite with street vendors, of which there are many. Flavors can be unique too from feta/watermelon to mastic, which is a flavor made from a resin and gently reminiscent of spruce.
Textile arts are prevalent there with weavings and home made clothes abounding. Folkloric wood carved furnishings, sometimes painted or distressed continue being crafted today. Pottery making has been exalted since ancient times and continues to this day.
If you enjoy the abundance of a tropical garden, exuberantly fresh produce and walking into a grocery store smelling of hot, fresh breads and pastry, a visit to Cyprus may be for you. The food and wine is incredible, the people are lovely and if you can’t speak Greek, most everyone will speak English. Costs are relatively low and the weather is nice with two growing seasons. So much to see and do and Spring is the perfect time to do it.
I was fortunate to travel to Peru in the mid 70’s when it was fairly off the beaten track.
Lima was our first stop after flying in over the spectacular Nasca ruins, which really do beg the question concerning extra terrestrial life. Enourmous works of inspired art appearing to the airplane viewer.The ultimate goal was Machu Pichu, but it became more about holding down any food rather than eating it there due to altitude sickness, despite coca tea!
Lima was a rainbow from the very wealthy neighborhoods , like Mira Flores, to the barrios and everything in between. The street foods were amazing and varied from colorful “to-go” dishes featuring beets and avocado, to quinoa preparations( often found in graves as food for the afterlife) interesting drinks including maca ( or Peruvian Ginseng) to Pisco Sours.
Let’s talk about Pisco Sours, the national drink, a white brandy. Pisco is a study in itself. Like wine different kinds present different features. It can be smooth and floral …..or a lot rougher in it’s cheaper forms.
We frequented Lima’s Hotel Boulevard , a grand dining room, in a grand hotel where lunch was an event. There I learned to love conchitas. While conchita means shell in Spanish, these tasty local scallops were served barley broiled in their shells ,with their roe, and dressed with lime and hot peppers, sometimes parmesan cheese.
But my biggest infatuation was with SEVICHE. In Maine , in the winter, our local sea scallops are wonderful and Seviche is a fresh and lean way to enjoy them.
Please see our SEASONAL RECIPE for one of my favorite variations.
One of Maine’s favorite winter foods get a Latin American spin with this Peruvian preparation.
Here is one of my favorite way to enjoy scallops:
SERVES 4 TO 6
1 1/2 POUNDS MAINE SEA SCALLOPS
2 DICED, FIRM RED TOMATO
1 LARGE MINCED SHALLOT
1 SMALL JALEPENO, DICED FINE ( USE THE SEEDS IF YOU LIKE IT HOT)
1/2 CUP FRESHLY SQUEEZED LIME JUICE
1/2 CUP FRESH ORANGE JUICE, SLIGHTLY MORE TO TASTE
1 TSP. PINK SALT, MORE TO TASTE
AVOCADO SLICES AND CILANTRO , TO GARNISH
MIX ALL INGREDIENTS TOGETHER IN A GLASS BOWL.
COVER AND CHILL FOR AT LEAST 4 TO 6 HOURS, GIVE IT AN OCCASIONAL STIR.
WHEN READY TO PLATE, USE A BED OF CRISP BOSTON LETTUCE AND TOP WITH SEVICHE.
SEASON TO TASTE WITH MORE SALT AND PEPPER. GARNISH WITH LIME AND AVOCADO SLICES AND CORN CHIPS.
HAVE SOME COLD CERVEZA ON HAND! OR A PISCO SOUR!
THIS CAN ALSO BE MADE WITH A FIRM WHITE FISH LIKE HALIBUT OR COD.
PISCO SOUR RECIPE
PERU’S NATIONAL DRINK is oddly attributed to an American bartender from the early 1920’s.
Due to the addition of egg whites, the Pisco sour sports a thick and frothy head of foam attained by a method called “dry shaking”, where by the ingredients are first combined by vigorous shaking before the second shake with ice to chill the drink:
2 oz. Pisco ( spring for a good one!)
1 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters, to garnish
Add all ingredients, except bitters and ice. Shake vigorously until a nice cap of foam forms.
Add crushed ice and shake again until well chilled.
Strain into a cocktail coupe or a rocks glass over more ice.
Garnish with a few drops of bitters.
There you have it!
Enjoy this distinctive drink with toasted, salted corn nuts, the Peruvian bar snack of choice.
Giving for Valentine’s Day isn’t always easy….unless you’re Justin Timberlake: You start with a box, you put a hole in that box….etc…lol..
I prefer something with more calories. Like chocolate.
Chocolate ganache is a shape shifter and needs to be in everyone’s repertoire. Make exclusively from any good type of chocolate and heavy cream, it is very versatile and a one to one ratio.
When warm, it makes a pourable dip for fruit ( think strawberries) or a drizzle for cakes or pastry. When cool, you can ice a cake. If chilled, the best rolled truffles in the world become within reach. If you fancy hot fudge sundaes , here’s your sauce!
I like to bottle it and give it to my bridal couples with a small paintbrush and the directive that ”this sauce really can go to your thighs!”. Good clean and delicious fun, whether you’re married or not!
Here is there recipe:
CHOCOLATE GANACHE, MAKES ONE CUP
16 oz, finely chopped chocolate ( good quality is best) you can use chocolate chips. I prefer bittersweet.
1 cup heavy cream
COOK THESE TWO INGREDIENTS IN A DOUBLE BOILER ORVER MEDIUM HEAT UNTIL MELTED.
LET IT COOL UNCOVERED THEN STORE AIRTIGHT IN THE FRIDGE. LASTS A LONG WHILE!
Wanna get Scrod? Well, you could at Durgin- Park in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
Or at least you could while it was open. It closed 3 years ago at the age of 193!
You could also get abused by their surly waitresses…famous for it and seemingly having some fun with it too. Call them terribly rude, but they have a reputation to uphold!
The restaurant began in 1827 as a small dining room in a market house near the waterfront. It grew over the years becoming more recently ,a multi-level extravaganza featuring the Gaslight Bar and a comedy club. It operated continuously until the pandemic did it in .It was a hallmark of traditional Yankee cooking.
Once a “must-see” on any tour of Boston, and a long time family favorite of tourists and many local families alike including the Boston Cabots, it sported a menu unique both in it’s inclusiveness and in it’s adherence to tradition. They’ve enjoyed a fiercely devoted following over the generations for their Yankee cooking and large portions.
Known initially as a seafood restaurant , they also featured nice hand cut steaks, dry-aged prime rib and New England favorites such as Yankee Pot Roast,corn bread and baked beans. Their Indian pudding was scrumptious and practically unchanged since Colonial times, except for the vanilla ice cream.
Of course there was lobster and all manner of seafood…but the only nod to a vegetarian was called humorously “The Bale Of Hay”. A vegetarian at the time of my visit I had to laugh…four different vegetables and a potato made up the plate. But kudos to them for offering it. It wasn’t notable but it wasn’t bad.
The property is now owned by a restaurant group and there is talk of a re-opening using some of their original staff …fingers crossed for another round of good natured abuse and fresh fish.
It’s my birthday week and a time of year that I always look forward to.
Here in Maine, the light is slowly returning. But it’s still a contemplative time in the North . A time to consider the New Year and our resolutions to improve, but also a time to gather and to celebrate ourselves and our friends.
So my birthday, Jan 21, comes at a great time. The holidays are over and there is a bit of a let down. Valentine’s is still a couple weeks away. So why not open some champagne and throw a party?
This year, I plan to invite a half a dozen friends, bring out vintage champagne and bake this cake. It’s built like a carrot cake with cream cheese icing. II like coconut,toasted walnuts and raisins in mine:
Makes one 9 inch layer, I double it for a layer cake.
1 1/2 cup ap flour, sifted to measure
2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp each ginger and cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl
1 stick unsalted butter
1cup light brown sugar
3 large brown eggs at room temp.
1/2 c yoghurt
1 TB real vanilla
2 cups grated parsnip. GRATE THEM SMALL, BY HAND
1/2 cup each h rain, conceit shreds and toasted walnuts
Cream the butter and sugar, adding in the eggs , yoghurt and vanilla slowly.
Combine with dry, ingredients folding in carefully . Add the parsnip,nuts, raisins and coconut last and mix in lightly but thoroughly .
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease 9 inch pan, with amply high sides as the batter is generous.
Bake for about 50 minutes or until done, I use a toothpick as a tester.
Let the cake cool partially before turning it out on a rack .
To cover 2 layers and in between:
Soften 2 1/2 # cream cheese and one stick of butter .
Cook a medium beet, covered and on low heat in a couple inches of water, saving some of the liquid. Cool.
Use a kitchen Aid mixer and whisk, drop in the softened cream cheese and butter. Add a tsp. of vanilla, a 1/4 tsp. of lemon zest ( small grate)and a cup of sifted powdered sugar.
Start the machine slowly until all ingredients for the icing are in corporatated. Then beat on high for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Be sure the icing is thick enough to spread.
If you like pink as much as I do, add a bit of beet liquid to the icing to achieve the color you want. You may need to add some additional powdered sugar to correct the thickness .
Pffeffernusse or Pepper Nuts,a traditional European Christmas cookie
Thank you Aunt Marie!
Sift together the dry ingredients:
2 c. flour plus 2 tb flour
1/4 tsp.baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. Each nutmeg, clove and cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup each butter and sugar
Add one egg, beating until light.
Add: 1/4 c finely chopped almonds
1 TB each candied orange peel and candied *citron*
Add the flour to the creamed ingredients slowly and alternate with:
1/2 generous cup or Barbados molasses
1/2 cup brandy or Cognac
1 tsp lemon rind, grated
1 TB lemon juice
Combine and beat well, allow to sit covered overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Form the dough into one inch balls.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
While warm, roll in powdered sugar Keep tightly covered and the flavor will develop nicely!
* a note on candied citron: I tried preparing my own candied citron one year. It’s a lot of work and a lot of sugar…but worth it if you’re an avid baker. And it keeps!
A citron is a special small melon like fruit,called a Buddha’s Hand (most commonly) which you dice small and cook in a thick sugar syrup, then dry on a rack and add more sugar to coat. A candy thermometer is worthwhile for this endeavor.
Now that my father has passed, I have to dig a little deeper for fans of our family fruitcake, he and I loved it the best. I suppose it’s almost time to Kick the Fruitcake!
Every year I’d make him a couple of large ones for Christmas, heavy with rum and studded with all manner of fruits and nuts
I think this family tradition all started with my Great Aunt Marie, who was Austrian and a fantastic baker. She was a sister of my Grand dad’s on my father’s side and, boy, did they love good food!
Dad used to tell us stories of living as a boy in Europe. He loved the sour cherry pies, and farm fresh food, the big vegetable garden at the house where he grew up. This house was in a village near the edge of a forest in Austria. He loved to tell of the mornings he got lucky and was able to hop on the back rail of a horse drawn sleigh, bells jingling, to get him to school on time. He was perennially late and that never changed. But he was never later to dinner.
Both his Mother and Aunt were terrific cooks and bakers. Often Aunt Marie would bake well ahead for the holidays and bury her fruitcakes in powdered sugar until the proper day arrived. They do keep very well, being well imbibed with spirits and stay surprisingly moist for a long period of time. They were savored judiciously due to their richness. She also made a special pepper cookie called Pfeffernuise, literally “pepper nuts” which us kids loved to dunk when she made them for us a generation later. Hard as rocks, but full of flavor!
My Dad’s Mom,who loved to visit me in Maine, used to describe my 1970’s lifestyle as similar to the way they lived back then. She described Christmas in Austria with a deep dark forest, hooting owls in snowy fir trees, the sound of snow sliding of their peaked metal roof and chickens to feed. The prized Christmas goose for the table was her domain. Her job was to catch and kill it and prepare it for roasting. She made her own feather beds.
The picture I still have in my mind is chalet-like, one of extreme coziness: prosperity, honest work, a full larder and a beloved dog by a roaring fire.
My father kept the memories of these women and this life alive and passed them on to me, which is why I’ll make fruitcake anyway this season…for remembrance.
Mingle the bold colors and 1980’s vibe of the past with a eco-sensibilities and the concern for sustainability so prevalent with today’s couples and you’re on trend for this season and next. Maybe GREEN is the new and predominant color?
Here at Laura Cabot Catering, we enjoy allowing the season’s bounty to drive a menu. What ingredients are “of the moment”? What feels appropriate to the time, occasion and place? Are their elements of shared experiences or travel the wedding couple would like to employ? How can we infuse a menu with terroir, or a real feel of the land and or sea?
Certainly wine is known for terroir, but how about oysters, for instance. The waters which sustain them also give them unique mineralogy and flavor and here in Maine we are blessed with so many expert growers and sea farmers. I feel the same way about seaweed and use it judiciously in my cooking and presentation.
Along the same line, the carrots grown in my gardens taste much different that those from a different farm. Supporting our boutique farms is a passion of mine personally and I love to incorporate this into my wedding menus.
Speaking of trends, I have noticed discussions on the re-emergence of bows in wedding couture, but unless we’re discussing farfalle pasta I am not including them in the menu conversation. I do see a renewed uptick of interest in grazing tables. Super sized and elaborate charcuterie boards with antipasti elements are a specialty here at Laura Cabot Catering. Also, small plates are seeing a comeback and are such a fun way to taste many things as well as mingle without getting overly full.
For my ideas on a larger scale crowd pleasing menu that checks all the boxes, I’ll use an example of a wildly popular menu we presented at a Fall island wedding event this past season. It features a raw bar with Islesboro oysters and Gulf shrimp representing the two domiciles of this particular family I was serving . We also had charcuterie as a stationed appetizer.
Passed items were varied to include some seasonal aspects (butternut, late season spinach) as well as dietary concerns such as Veganism and an allergy to tree nuts.
We offered a plated salad course, which served to upscale “the feel” of more service with an eye to budget and coupled that with rustic breads and butter, always a good way to “break the ice” with dining table companions.
The buffet, which was a two sided affair to move the crowd gracefully, offered three entrees, a bespoke heritage herbed pork loin roast with Demi glace and morels, an “airline” chicken preparation, topped with Caponata (optional) and a vegetarian, gluten free and vegan Ratatouille (Parmesan on the side). Sides were a mixed rice pilaf, local parsley potato and a medley of seasonal farm vegetables. I find that creative and hearty side dishes are one way to satisfy many different diets and tastes and preferences. We’ve also deliberately moved to the use of very good oils for cooking and finishing our foods as another way to please our very discriminating clientele.
Although this next season marks our fortieth at Laura Cabot Catering, every season brings it’s lessons, trends, challenges and triumphs. And we love every bit of it and all the wonderful families we have yet to serve.