Food Memory: Arranque Roteño

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Arranque Roteño served with green pepper slices

A cool breeze blows through the covered courtyard providing some relief to the August heat. It’s way past sunset in a country where it doesn’t get dark until after 11PM. A Spanish guitarist strums his instrument with an overgrown, gnarled fingernail that doubles as his pick. To his side is another man who is keeping beat by clapping as his voice wails a sad, haunting song. There are others on stage as well. Many women dressed in colorful dresses with plenty of ruffles. Their dark hair pulled tight by brightly colored, ornate clips that glisten in the moonlight. We are deep in the south of Spain, in Andalucia.

Suddenly, one of the ladies stands up with a determined look on her face. She has begun to feel the music and wants to dance. She stomps and moves across the floor. Twirling and clapping and stomping some more. She’s dancing as if all the pain and suffering in her life will be released in these heavy steps. She continues this maddening dance until she suddenly returns to the current moment and moves back to her seat.

In flamenco, this would be called an arranque, or an outburst.  But for me, arranque is also the best term to describe my culinary experience during my time in Spain.

My love for cooking and baking started young. Each day, I would rush home from school to try a new recipe or help my mother with dinner preparations. During college, this passion continued to build by trying new recipes, cuisines, and ingredients on willing roommates. By senior year, we were hosting a weekly “family dinner” for friends who wanted to enjoy good food and company. I graduated and had more time (and money!) to spend in the kitchen so I continued to hone my skills.  By the time I moved to Andalucia, this passion had met a fevered climax. But all the newness of my new home was overwhelming so I retreated to a space that had always brought me comfort, the kitchen.

I began to explore Andalucia through its ingredients, spices and markets. I learned to cook local and in season. I wandered the grocery stores, drove through the pueblos blancos mountain villages to find the best olive oil and sampled sherry wine. I tried dishes I never thought I would, learned the language (my Spanish food vocabulary is still stronger than any other area!), and began to grow into a confident cook.

My husband and I started to travel outside of Spain to Italy, France and Morocco.  Traveling with our stomachs quickly became our favorite way to explore each new location. We did cooking classes, sought out local specialties, and shared wonderful meals along the way. Our most common souvenirs were inevitably food-related items such as Parmigianino cheese, hefty red wines, spices, and local cookware. When we returned home, we would recreate these dishes in our kitchen and invite friends over to share in our travel memories around the dinner table.

We have since left Spain but I still look upon that time fondly. The heat of the sun, the refreshing sea breeze at night, the long nights spent on a tapeo (tapas hopping) with friends, the loud and boisterous Spanish, and the closeness I felt with the people through their food. I can’t think of a better place to have my culinary “arranque.”

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Basic ingredients creates a dish that transports me to Andalucia every time!

Arranque Roteño

It seems fitting that one of my favorite recipes to make when I’m missing Andalucia also has arranque in its name.  This recipe was from my “hometown” of Rota. A close relative of gazpacho or Cordoba’s solemero, this dish is served as a dip. I loved the simplicity of this dish and how it takes me back to sunny Andalucia every time.

4-5 red medium-size tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves
3-5 Italian green peppers
Olive oil, to taste
Salt, to taste
½ lb. breadcrumbs (preferably baguette, 2 days old)

Blend tomatoes, green peppers and garlic cloves in a food processor. Next add breadcrumbs, olive oil and salt to taste until the texture thickens to your liking. Chill in fridge for 45 minutes before serving.

Use sliced vegetables (green pepper slices are my favorite), picos or bread to dip. Serve with jamón serrano, Manchego cheese and olives. Serve with sherry wine for an authentic Andalucian experience.

 Note: This piece was originally created for Food52’s weekly “Food Memory” segment. I waited too long and they discontinued it so I thought I’d share here. 

San Sebastián Foods: Basque Food A-Z Tour

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San Sebastián, a gorgeous city even in the rain

After a short 36-hour stay in Paris, we were off to San Sebastián in northern Spain. We decided that we would spend a few days checking out this foodie city since we never made it there while living in Spain. That may have been a good thing as I would be plotting to visit monthly if it was closer!

Sadly, however, the weather did not cooperate with us. It rained the entire time we were there. Ok, it rained all but 2 hours of our time there! In those two hours, we hiked up Mount Urgull to get some stunning views of the city, sea, and famous La Concha beach. But the thing was that even with the rain, we were absolutely falling in love with San Sebastián.

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A break in the rain led to some stunning views over the city

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View from the top of Mount Urgull

So when in Rome San Sebastián, you must join in the foodie culture! Therefore, we signed up for a tour with San Sebastian Foods. My friend Anne had recommended them (and she never steers me wrong!) so we selected the Market Tour: Basque Food A-Z.

We met at the San Sebastián Foods store on Calle Aldamar in the old city. Our tour guide Lourdes led us through basic introductions and gave us a quick overview of how the day would proceed. We would start at the local market, continue on to a local jamón shop, and then to enjoy some appetizers and wine at a gastronomic society. Lastly, we would move to a local restaurant for the main course and dessert. Yep, sounded like the perfect way to spend a rainy day to me!

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You can also purchase local food items at San Sebastián Foods

The market was like most other food markets I’ve been to in Spain. There has been a push to modernize many of the country’s outdated markets. The downside is that many of these food markets have lost their character but I guess it’s a price to pay for purchasing safe, quality products. The key difference was that I usually don’t have a fabulous guide like Lourdes leading me through it so I learned far more about this market than most others. She weaved the group through the market stopping at stalls to explain basic Spanish ingredients (with some samples!), local Basque specialties, and throwing in tidbits of history and culture. On top of it, we were thoroughly immersed into the Saturday hustle of locals purchasing food for the weekend. It was great seeing the energy and passion for good food of this city!

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Being led through the fish market on a Saturday

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Cheese vendor at local market

After the market tour, we ventured out (yes, in the rain) to a local jamón shop. Lourdes explained the different types of jamón. My husband and I are pretty well-versed in the varieties and quality after having lived in Andalucia for several years but  we were blown away by the samples the shop provided. They didn’t hold back in offering up some of the best jamón around!

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Legs of jamón all lined up

We then headed to a local gastronomic society. Food geek alert…I was so excited to see this was part of the tour! I was fascinated by the concept and excited to learn more about it. In short, gastronomic societies have been in San Sebastián for over a century. These all-men brotherhoods were originally founded to create a meeting place for free conversation and drinking without government regulations or oversight. Over time, the focus of these societies has shifted to cooking and camaraderie of its members. They meet to shop for fresh ingredients, cook up food for their friends, play cards, socialize, and drink. Now it begins to make sense why San Sebastián has some of the best restaurants in the world, eh? So a man would join a society and then head there to hang out with his friends while cooking, or eating, delicious food. As Lourdes told us, the wives felt comfortable knowing that their husbands were hanging out with a bunch of guys than doing who knows what!

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Local wine txakoli being served with tomato and olive oil and fresh bread at a local gastronomic society

Over the years, some of these all-men societies have come to allow women to enter but only as guests. There is one rule for women: do not cross the line into the kitchen. The kitchen is, and will remain, the man’s domain. I know several women who would happily give up that duty! 😉

The men served us the local wine txakoli (wish I could find it here!), tomatoes drizzled in olive oil, and morcilla (blood sausage) that was warmed to a spreadable consistency. The bottles of wine kept coming and by the end, we were all a merry bunch. The members of the society wanted to take pictures of us so they snapped away as we stood there happily buzzed off good food and wine. They even passed out their business cards in hopes of receiving postcards from around the world which they display in their society. Yep, there should be one of Mt. Fuji in there by now!

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Fish and clams in garlicky sauce was perfection!

The last part of the tour was a local restaurant where we enjoyed a main course and dessert. We were served a firm white fish with clams in a garlicky broth (there was a non-seafood options if coordinated beforehand) and red wine. Then it was time to move onto dessert, local cheeses and membrillo. I was full but cannot resist membrillo.  This was my first taste after several years, and it was magical. Firm and sweet; the perfect balance to the salty tang of the cheese.

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Membrillo and local cheeses for dessert

During the entire tour, Lourdes answered any questions about food, the local culture, Basque Country, and more. I really appreciated her openness to all topics that were discussed. I learned an incredible amount about Basque Country and its people as well as Spanish food in general. I love food tours because when you sit and “break bread” with others, you feel like family by the end. This experience was no different. We felt that we were in the company of good friends and even made plans to go pintxo-hopping with some other tour participants that evening.

When I return to San Sebastián , signing up with San Sebastián Food will be the first thing on my list! They offer a variety of tours from evening pintxos hopping or dinner at a sidra (cider) restaurant to cooking and bread-making classes. They have also revamped their corporate branding to now include food styling classes as well.

Sigh, I must figure out a way to return SOON….

Courtney

Cook’N With Class: French Baking

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Cook’N With Class kitchen is located in Montmatre


Currently, playing catch up as it was an incredibly active spring followed by non-stop summer since we returned to Japan. So with that, here’s the first of our extended European adventure…

Talk about starting our European trip off right! We had only flown into Paris from Narita the night before but I was up early for my French baking class at Cook’n With Class. Anxious to get in the kitchen and (fingers crossed) learn to make pan au chocolat, I rushed off with barely a nibble at my B&B’s breakfast (though it looked amazingly good). Nothing could get between me and some delicious pastries!

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Croissants ready for the oven!

It has long been a dream of mine to take a cooking class in Paris. I’ve done cooking classes around the world and it’s my favorite ways to experience a  culture while traveling. The last time I was in Paris in 2010, the cooking class craze hadn’t totally caught on so all courses were insanely expensive. Now, there are numerous options to suit all budgets around Paris. I was a bit short on time so I selected this cooking school because it was highly recommended by our B&B and it was very conveniently located less than 5-minutes from where we were staying.

A little before 9AM, I met the group with whom I’d be sharing the morning baking experience. We were a mixed bag of Americans from all across the country and a young lady from Istanbul who owns a cake and sweets business. We made quick introductions and chatted about our experiences so far in Paris. Several of the students had signed up for several classes and were raving about the other courses (sad face; I could only take one!).

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Chef Briony showing us how to prepare the croissants

At 9 o’clock, we promptly started with Chef Briony explaining the class’s agenda so we could get the most out of our three hours.  Due to the time required to prep and let the laminated dough rest, it had been prepared beforehand. We would create all of our pastries and while they were baking, we would go back to square one and learn how to make the laminated dough.

And with that, we were off! First up was the custard cream for the raisin and fresh fruit danishes. This versatile cream came together very quickly under Chef Briony’s expert eye. Once completed, it was placed on a plate (more surface area so it chills faster – why did I not think of this?!) and covered with plastic wrap to chill in the refrigerator.

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Yep, that’s a layer of butter on there! Learning to make laminated dough

Next we learned pound out the laminated dough to begin making the pastries. Laminated dough is pastry dough that is layered with butter. It is folded in a specific sequence to create numerous layers that puff up to become light and flaky. This type of dough is used for all sorts of breads and pastries like pan au chocolat, danishes, and of course, the infamous croissant.

So began the task of running through and learning how to proper prepare the croissant, pan au chocolat (YAY!), raisin danish, and fresh fruit danish. It was a delicious sugar rush! I won’t bore you with the details but we each got to try our hand at making each variety before prepping them to bake. Along the way, we learned tricks of a pastry chef and tidbits on how to incorporate it into a home kitchen. Plus there were plenty of laughs, pictures, and fun.

Once everything was done and resting, it was time to learn how to make laminated dough. Chef Briony demonstrated how the dough was prepared in a KitchenAid mixer. Then she demonstrated how to pound out the butter with precision before it melted. You must move very, very fast during this stage! We took turns pounding the butter and dough. Next up was learning how to properly fold the dough to create the layers. We practiced folding it in a very exact sequence that pastry chefs learn quickly (lucky for us, they provide you with a video along with the recipes so no need to take detailed notes during the class). We had completed the hands-on portion with precision!

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Fresh out of the oven!

At this point, the pastries were baking and smelling delicious so we cleaned up the table, washed our hands and sat down to enjoy our creations straight out of the oven. An interesting tip was that croissants shouldn’t be eaten warm as they need to cool for the flaky layers to form which is why you never get a warm croissant from a good French bakery However, we were too anxious to try them so we immediately dug into croissants, pan au chocolat, and danishes with a strong cup of coffee.

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Savoring my pan au chocolat with an espresso

I would definitely recommend taking a class through Cook’N With Class. I really wanted to do the macaroon class but with only 24-hours in Paris, I couldn’t make it happen.  They offer several classes from market tours with dinner to French Desserts, Macaroons, and more. I will definitely be participating in another class next time I’m in Paris.

xxCourtney

Note: We stayed at the wonderful Au Sourire de Montmatre B&B. Illhame and her family did everything possible to make it a great trip prior to our arrival. She put me in contact with Cook’n With Class as well as made arrangements for a private driver to pick us up at the airport. The service did not slow when we arrived. The rooms are beautifully designed and the breakfast…the breakfast! Let’s just say it was one of the best breakfasts I had in my 3+ weeks traveling France and Spain! :

Pistachio Pesto

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I’ve always loved pesto. Genovese pesto, sundried tomato pesto, walnut pesto, cilantro pesto….basically, anything pesto!  It’s a brilliant sauce because it mixes so many flavors and textures into a power punch that dresses up any dish. However, it wasn’t until I tried pistachio pesto that my heart skipped a beat.

While living in Spain, our friend Lucia would routinely return to her hometown in Sicily. Knowing that we loved good food, she would bring me back wonderful treats.  They would range from pistachio-laced pastries, dried pastas and condiments to her mother’s homemade arancini. One day, she brought back pistachio pesto. I was intrigued by how it would taste and  headed home with a plan to enjoy that jar of pesto that evening.

That was the start of a love affair that has traveled halfway around the world and led to countless attempts at recreating the recipe. I’ve tried and tweaked it as much as possible to mimic the pistachio pesto I would receive from Sicily. Purchase good quality pistachios since they are the main ingredient in the recipe. Your pesto will appreciate it. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as my family does.

Note: This pesto freezes very well. I usually mix up several batches and then freeze them in containers perfect for my husband and I to enjoy for dinner. It makes for a great (and easy!) mid-week dinner.

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Pistachio Pesto
Serving: 6

7 oz. unsalted roasted shelled pistachios (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBSP chopped basil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup finely shredded pecorino cheese (cut into chunks)

Blend pistachios in food processor until coarsely chopped. Add oil, basil, garlic clove and cheese. Pulse until smooth.

Use immediately, or store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can also freeze pesto for several months.

Rebujitos & World Sherry Day

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A taste of Andalusia!

Oh, rebujitos!

It’s early May and that has me dreaming (again) of Spain. Partially because I’m heading back in a few days for vacation but mainly due to several of my (evil) friends who are posting all their feria pictures on Facebook. The brightly-colored ruffled dresses, young men on horses, dancers stomping and clapping, tapas, and general merriment with good friends.

Rebujitos are the drink of feria season. The drink was simple, requiring only manzanilla and 7-Up. It was served by the glass; or for those sharing, by the pitcher. It’s a great introduction to sherry wine. Manzanilla is slightly sweeter and you can temper its intensity with 7-Up. The taste of sherry is unique. It tastes of sunshine, the chalky yellow soil of the area, and the salty sea air that blows over the vineyards. For me, it’s Andalusia in a glass!

It also seems fitting that this year, there will be the first ever World Sherry Day  on Sunday, May 26. There are events around the world from Andalusia all the way to Japan! They vary from gatherings with friends to large events put on by restaurants and bodegas. I am sad that I won’t be able to attend an event here in Japan but believe me, I will find my way to some sherry along the Camino de Santiago to toast this wonderful wine with everyone around the world!

¡Salud!

Courtney

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Enjoy a rebujito this year in honor of World Sherry Day!

Rebujitos
La Gitana manzanilla
7-Up (or Sprite) soda
Ice

Fill glass with ice. Pour as much manzanilla as you want. Top off with 7-Up.

The above is the traditional form served at feria. You can dressed it up by adding an orange/lemon slice or  lemon/orange juice. I once served it in a champagne flute with a blood orange slices.

 

Favorite Places: Vejer de la Frontera (Spain)

Heading into the juderia, the Jewish area - Vejer

It was cold and rainy in Japan when I started this post.  It was only natural that my thoughts turned towards sun, warmth, and enjoying good food on an outside patio. For me, the stunning village of Vejer de la Frontera is all of that!

This pueblo blanco (“white village” in Spanish) isn’t on the normal tourist circuit for Andalucia. Total shame but I’ll keep it for my own secret getaway! It’s dramatically perched about 200m above the rolling countryside. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and sometimes Morocco. The town has a strong Moorish history that I found fascinating. There’s even a statue in the old city showing the traditional covering women wore, which looked similar to a nun’s habit, until only a century ago.  While many cities in Andalucia tried to cleanse themselves of their Moorish past, Vejer de la Frontera seemed to embrace it and has flourished because of it.

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Traditional clothing for the women of Vejer until about a century ago.

I would routinely head down to Vejer to escape for the day quickly making it one of my happy places. Typically, I would just wander the streets. Get lost and find my way back. Along the way, I would find new places. These places would include an old Jewish district, cathedral, the beautiful Plaza de España with its spouting frog fountain, tiny hole-in-the-wall shops, and more.

For those who like to have a starting point, I’ve included some of the places that I would regularly visit. Basically these places were my excuse to go to Vejer (as if I really needed one!). Whether you choose one, or all, it will be a memorable trip.

After cooking the fish in salt, Annie B prepares for serving.

Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen
Scottish expat Anne runs a cooking school out of the kitchen of her beautiful Casa Alegre. The courses are varied as the tapas you can find in Vejer! You usually start at a local gourmet store (or market) before heading back to her house to wash up and begin cooking. I participated in private classes as well as special theme classes such as Moroccan pastries. After all the cooking is complete, you move to the patio to enjoy the fruits of your labor with some fine sherry wine.

Website: http://www.anniebspain.com/

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Delicious pastela at El Jardin restaurant in Hotel La Casa del Califa.

El Jardin Resturant

Leave the bustle of the main plaza and find yourself in a tranquil setting of a lush patio or a cozy stone cistern. The North African and Middle Eastern food is high-quality and delicious. Start off with the mezze platter to enjoy a sampling of falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush. For the main dish, sample the house-specialty pastela, a sweet-savory mix of chicken and spices wrapped in warka pastry and served with an almond sauce. Your taste buds won’t know what hit them! For vegetarians, try the chargrilled vegetables and manouri cheese. Save room for dessert or grab a few Moroccan pastries to take home with you.
Website: http://jardin.lacasadelcalifa.com/
Note: The restaurant is located within the Hotel La Casa del Califa. It’s a gorgeous boutique hotel. Each room has its own personality and feel while providing you with all the modern comforts. We lived too close to justify staying there but did splurge a few times for special occasions!

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Pottery artwork at NMAC – Vejer de la Frontera.

NMAC
Located a short drive from Vejer towards Tarifa is an outdoor art museum called NMAC. It took me awhile to finally make my way there but once I did, I didn’t want to leave. Most of the pieces are permanent and scattered around the museum grounds which situated on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. They also have rotating exhibits as well, which are varied but leaned towards whimsical. One visit included a photo series of dogs standing on their hind legs posed throughout local white villages. It was just too cute!
Website: http://www.fundacionnmac.org/english/home.php

And with that, my thoughts turn south to Tarifa….be on the lookout for my next Favorite Place.

xxCourtney

Crostata alla Nutella (Italian Nutella Tart)

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My friends and family know I have a slight major Nutella obsession!

It started young when our Italian neighbors in Dublin, Ohio let me enjoy my first taste of this chocolatey hazelnut goodness.  It quickly became one of my favorite treats. Years have passed since that day and I still love Nutella. I put it on anything and everything. I host an annual event in celebration of Nutella Day. Even the year I joined the Public Relations Bateman Competition in college, the product happened to be Nutella. It was obviously a product I could get behind!

Yummy nutella treat

Enjoying crostata alla Nutella in Italy (2006)

I always knew the French loved their Nutella on toast and in pastries. They do it well so I thought there was little competition. But when I first visited Italy, I realized that Nutella’s homeland took it to a whole other level. During our 2-week journey, we spent 3 nights in Alba, Italy. Yes, the home of the Nutella factory. The factory is very secretive so no tour (sad face) but walking the streets to the smell of chocolate-hazelnut was divine.

During this trip, my husband and I were museum-bashing Florence and needed a recharge so we ducked into a small café for a macchiato and treat. Little did I know I would come face-to-face with a dessert that I still dream about, the crostata alla nutella. A sweet shortbread-like dough with a thick Nutella layer. Utterly sinful and delicious! Served with a thick, strong macchiato and it’s a match made in heaven.

In an attempt to recreate this delicious food memory, I have scoured the internet translating Italian recipes, comparing Italian-American recipes and taste testing several versions (yes, it’s a hard job!). This recipe is a mix of all the research and the closest I’ve come to the “real thing”.

Crostata alla Nutella

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold and cut into cubes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups powdered (icing) sugar

4 egg yolks

¼ tsp vanilla extract

1 large jar (750 g) Nutella

Powdered (icing) sugar, for decoration

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius). Butter and flour tart pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine cold butter cut into cubes with a little over 2 cups of all-purpose flour until it resembles sand. You can use pastry blender or your hand.

Dump the butter and flour mixture onto a large working surface and make it into a mound. Add a little over 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar on top and make a well in the middle.

Into the well, add four egg yolks and a dash of vanilla. Slowly begin to incorporate the egg yolks and vanilla into the sugar, butter and flour mixture. This process will take awhile so be patient. Continue mixing and kneading until the mixture resembles firm cookie dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for two hours.

Flour your working surface and roll the dough into a circle large enough for your tart. You will want the dough to be thicker, approximately ¼- ½ inch thick.  Use extra dough to create decorative strips for the top.

After the dough is in the pan, use a fork to poke several small holes so it doesn’t bubble while baking. Take the jar of Nutella and dump the whole thing into the tart pan.  Note: I have used less and it’s fine. I actually prefer a higher pasta frolla-to-Nutella ratio.

Place tart in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes. The pasta frolla seems to brown too quickly so I usually lightly cover with foil for the first 30 minutes. Remove and let the dough get golden brown and the Nutella will turn a dark brown.

Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar prior to serving.

Note: Nutella can be swapped for marmalade. I used homemade mikan orange marmalade one time and everyone really enjoyed it.

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Message in Youth Hostel in Florence. I totally agree!!

Welcome to My Table

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Hello my foodie friends!

I decided it was time to take the plunge and start my blog. I’m always asked if I have a blog to share my adventures in the kitchen and abroad.  To be honest, I was scared after my first blog attempt. I started it in 2010 when we first moved to Japan but I think I took on more than I could handle at that time. A new culture, house, way of life, food, language, etc…..the list went on and on. I needed some time to figure my way around my new “home” and of course, that started in the food department. Did you expect anything less from me??

Join me as I share my adventures around Asia and in the kitchen. I will also be sharing memories, travel recommendations and recipes that remind me of my time in Europe. In between, there will be a few kitchen disasters and fun. That’s a guarantee!

xxCourt