Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Traditional Tamil Lunch at INDeco Heritage Hotel: Swamimalai, India

My traveling companions and I left the Swamimalai Temple hot, tired and hungry. We had toured two temples that morning traveling through back roads in Southern India. Then, enroute to a Heritage Hotel, we got lost. Fortunately our driver spoke Tamil, the local language, and we eventually found the place. We stepped out onto beautiful grounds and were immediately transported back to 1800's. The check-in area at INDeco Heritage Hotel sits within a beautifully restored British villa from 1896.
Foot Massage

We were welcomed with cool hand and face towels and a refreshing Ayurdevic foot massage. How lovely!  That restored our hot and tired bodies, but we were still hungry.

Being Welcomed to the Restaurant
Fortunately, we were soon on our way to lunch where were treated to a Tamil meal called the Thali.  The word "Thali" means "The Plate" and was traditionally served on a banana leaf. Ours came on a round dish lined with a banana left. The center features a dish of white rice and many small silver bowls surround it containing a variety of choices.

Appetizer and Beer
For starters, we had crunchy puffed rice crispies and sweetened rice and wheat cakes called Appam... and a beer. My, that beer hit the spot. Next came a soup with almond and orange, grown on the grounds, accompanied by bread sticks. Delicious.
Then, the Thali luncheon plate arrived which I was told was normally eaten clockwise. It included such items as vegetable curry, yellow lemon rice, roasted potatoes, another curry made with lentils, pickles , yogurt, and an egg dish or chicken dish. White rice and Indian bread were served alongside and dipped into the curries. I tasted each item, none was overly spicy, and found I liked the lentil and chicken dish best.
The Thali Lunch Plate

Desert was Semiya Payasam, a mixture made from milk, sugar and vermicelli rice- like a rice pudding. Then I was served a small glass with a shot of Paan, a concoction from beetle leaves which is an elixir, mixed with nuts and vanilla and perhaps a dollop of ice cream. It tasted and smelled like India to me - mysterious, exotic, spicy, and flavorful, but was not strong enough for any hallucinogenic effects.  A basket of fruit was also offered and we were once again full and happy.

Beetle Leaf Drink

Afterward, we toured the Heritage Hotel property which are an authentic 1800's restored village of Southern India. Our guide explained, "This is not a hotel, it is rural cultural experience." No two rooms are the same, most have sit outs and some have private courtyards. A few royal suites have a living and dining area as well.
A lovely room at the Heritage Hotel

The swimming pool at this hotel resembles a village Temple Tank and there is a Steve Borgia Museum containing an array of fascinating objects. Steve Borgia, an Indologist, founded INDeco Hotels to be a combination of leisure, heritage, health, nature, aesthetics, spirituality, fine arts and fun. This was the kind of hotel where you meander the grounds and discover all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. You might run into statuary, fountains, courtyards, benches, antiques or animals. The Swamimalai 1896 Tanjour Village Heritage Hotel is India's only winner of the Global Eco Tourism Award. I would agree with the brochure that states the hotel itself has emerged as a destination.
Statue in the Courtyard

Steve Borgia Museum 

Another Guest Room
The Beautiful Grounds of the Heritage Hotel in Swamimalai

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nutella Cookbook Inspires Pear & Apple Crumble

I first encountered Nutella while traveling in Europe but fortunately the product is now found in most grocery stores.  Nutella is chocolate and hazelnut spread made from roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa. In addition, Nutella has no artificial colors or preservatives.

A jar of Nutella and the Nutella Cookbook

Nutella was created in the 1940s by Mr. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Mr. Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of Italy (northwest), to extend the chocolate supply.

I usually buy Nutella to smear on apple slices as a lunchtime dessert. Some folks like it on toast, but Nutella is surprisingly versatile and easy product to work with.

I recently received a copy of a new cookbook entitled Nutella: The 30 best Recipes by Jacqui Small. The book is cleverly shaped like a jar of Nutella and each recipe comes with a full-color photograph of the treat. The ingredients for  creme brulee sound downright sinful, but honestly each one of the recipes looks like a winner.

I wanted to try Nutella macaroons (my favorite cookies) but honestly didn't have the time for the more complex preparation.  Instead I decided upon the Pear and Nutella crumble, adding  diced green apple to my concoction.

Cubed pieces of fresh apple and pear

The preparation was easy- I simply cut apples and pears into cubes and placed them in the bottom of a baking dish.  I then added a few dollops of Nutella. The cookbook suggested warming the jar to make spreading easier, but I simply stuck the dish into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes, then removed and stirred.
Apples and Pear with Nutella

Before Baking
I followed the directions for the crumb topping, sprinkling it on top of the fruit mixture and baked for about 30 minutes.  YUM. I admit, cobblers and pies are some of my very favorite desserts, but this presentation was outstanding. You could add vanilla ice cream to the warm dish or whipped cream if you serve it cold.

I would be proud of make it again and offer it to guests. (I'd be a little more careful about cleaning up the dish before baking!)

Nutella Pear & Apple Crumble

Get yourself a jar a Nutella and be creative, or buy the new cookbook and you will surely be inspired. 

Nutella: The 30 Best Recipes
by Jacqui Small
ISBN: 9-781-90934-216-3
Also available as an ebook

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Simply 7 Snacks are simply delicious

Thought I love sweets, sometimes I crave a salty and crunchy snack.  I'm not fond of pretzels, and we all know that potato and corn chips are loaded with unhealthy fat. I try to keep those products of my house except for parties.
Simply 7 Snacks

Recently, I was sent a box of Simply 7 Snacks to sample. But, when I looked at the list of ingredients, I thought it sounded a little too good to be true. After a few bites, I changed my mind. I couldn't believe how crispy and terrific the chips tasted.  Doubting myself, I gave some to a few friends, and they all agreed. These chips prove that healthy snacks is possible.

The Simply 7 Company was founded and stands behind seven impressive core standards:

Zero grams of trans-fat and no cholesterol
No artificial ingredients or flavors
No additives or preservatives
Gluten-free ingredients
All-natural recipes
Simple ingredients
Simply delicious

Quinoa Chips 
Their "better for you" products come flavored as Hummus Chips, Lentil Chips, Pomegranate Chips and Quinoa Chips.  In each case, the named item (hummus, quinoa, etc.) is the main ingredient.

First I tried sea-salted pomegranate chips because they just sounded so unusual. However, even though they had a nice crunch, they were a little too sweet for my liking.

Next, I tried Quinoa Cheddar Chips and loved them. To think that a serving (about 20 chips) includes eight grams of protein is a real bonus. The calorie count for that serving size runs about 140 calories.  Not bad!

I also devoured the sample of Quinoa Sour Cream and Onion Chips. I have not used the products with dips because they taste so god plain.  I suspect guacamole would make a smashing combination.

I was happy to learn about Simply 7 Snacks and will definitely be on the look-out for them in the grocery store.  According to the company's literature, they are carried by Safeway, Harris Teeter, HEB, Shaw's, Whole Foods, Gelson's and Shop Rite.  Each bag should cost between $2.50 and $3.49.

No more blue corn chips for me. I love these snacks and would absolutely be proud to serve them to my friends and grandchildren.

For more info: www.simply7snacks.com.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Classic Cocktail In Aruba: Arubiscus

Early morning above the Aruba Hyatt Pool

Lazy afternoons in the Caribbean, surrounded by warm ocean breezes, turquoise water and sandy beaches beg for a cocktail.  I recently found myself at the outdoor bar, under an authentic palapa at the Hyatt Regency Aruba. The lush grounds, sprawling pool and lagoon with Aruba's cooling breeze proved a fabulous warm getaway. Life was good.

Seems the staff was having a contest to develop a new signature drink.  Raul Adams, one of the  mixologists, suggested his creation: an Arubiscus. It's one a gorgeous magenta-hued drink that sparkles like the sunshine as it hits the glittering sea. The taste is sweet, but not too sweet, maybe even a tinge of tartness, but totally refreshing. Raul finishes the concoction by floating a preserved hibiscus flower on top. I presume women would be attracted to the Arubiscus because of the rosy-hued color. 

Raul was kind enough to share the recipe, however, like most exotic drinks, I suspect it tastes better on a Caribbean isle.  Fly over to Aruba, known as One Happy Island, stop in at the Hyatt and check it out.  I guarantee you will be one happy chic! I certainly was.

Arubiscus at Hyatt Aruba
By Raul Adams

2 ounces Hypnotic
1 Ounce Absolut Mango (Vodka)
1/2 ounce Hibiscus Syrup or simple syrup
1/2 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake with ice and fill remainder of glass with 7-Up.
Add a hibiscus flower (fresh or dried) for garnish.

I did love Aruba!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Authentic Mexican Lunch at The Palm at Playa

The Palm at Playa: A Restaurant Review

Shopping 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen

A trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico demands a visit to main street or 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen.  It's simply the trendy place for shopping, dining, night clubbing or people watching. 

The Rooftop Pool at The Palm at Playa

On my December visit, I made a stop in "The Palm at Playa," a boutique hotel located in the center of town. The hotel has a hip feel and offers 69 modern-style one and two bedroom lofts and suites which include high-tech devices. 

Hot Tub at The Palm

The rooftop pool is exquisite and many guests chose to spend their day there. Some  lounge around the pool while others soak into the hot-tub. The view from the elevated patio is terrific- I could see down to the ocean and beach, watch parasailing and often feel a nice breeze.


My group was offered lunch in the casual outdoor setting starting with a margarita on the rocks. In my opinion, a perfect start to an authentic Mexican meal.

Noe Islas, the chef, chose to offer a pairing of dishes from the region of Oaxaca, combining flavors, textures and colors along with a selection of Mexican wines from Baja California Norte.

Ceviche by Chef Noe Islas
As a starter we were served “fish ceviche” a delicacy throughout Latin America. This variation is Chef’s specialty made with chopped apple, marinated in tamarind sauce and a pinch of salt worm. The ceviche was paired with a fresh, cheerful and pleasant Sauvignon Blanc wine from “El Cielo”.  I believe the ceviche was the best dish I ate during my trip to Riviera Maya.  Absolutely brilliant flavors and outstanding freshness.

Chicken with Mole

For the second course we had grilled chicken with yellow mole and a side of sautéed potatoes. The mole, which is Mexican sauce, comes from Santa Maria de Tula, a beautiful little town in the state of Oaxaca. Pairing was  Parcelas from “Las Nubes” ,an intense aromatic woody red wine. It blended seamlessly with the spicy flavor of the mole´s ingredients.

Beef Steak

The third course was “beef steak on chichilo”, one of Oaxaca’s least know moles but one of the tastiest. The beef came with a side of Mexican Chaya. The wine pairing for this dish was a powerful  Barricas from “Las Nubes.”

Beautiful and Delicious Flan

And for dessert, we were served a Mexican favorite, a flan with intense caramel flavors and creamy goodness.  A fabulous finish to a grand lunch.

Although one would not likely drop into The Palm from the street, take note of the address and add it to your itinerary. Chef Islas makes terrific meals. (And is it any wonder I struggle with my weight-  this was just lunch?)

Debi Lander and Chef Noe Islas of The Palm

Disclosure:  I was flown to Riviera Maya, Mexico for a media trip hosted by Interval International. 

Calle 8, Nortte, Centro
Playa del Carmen, 

Quintana.Roo, Mexico 77710
Tel +52 (984) 873 33 33
Website www.thepalmplaya.com
Reservations: res@thepalmplaya.com

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Zucchini Garlic Soup

Soup's On 

I bought four zucchini's almost a week ago to make Zucchini Cheese Appetizer Squares.  I got behind in preparation for my cocktail party and the snack squares never got made. 

Zucchini Garlic Soup

This morning started as a rainy, gray day and soup sounded perfect. I goggled zucchini soup hoping to find a recipe to use up my produce. I came upon this one that sounded ideal.  The finished product appears and tastes like a cream based soup, but contains no milk or dairy. You simply use an immersion blender (or regular blender) to change the consistency of the vegetables into a puree once everything is cooked.  Very simple preparation especially with my new Garject garlic press!

Yum! A healthy, easy and delicious soup.  I will definitely make this recipe again.  And to entice kids: tell them it's Shrek Soup!

Zucchini Garlic Soup Recipe

makes 1 1/2 quarts

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 white onion, sliced
8 to 9 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly 
4 medium zucchini, about 1 1/2 pounds
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
Salt and pepper


Melt the butter in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat. When it foams, add the sliced garlic and onions and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn't brown; you want everything to sweat.
When the onions are soft, add the zucchini and cook until soft. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer at a low heat for about 45 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then blend with an immersion blender until creamy, or transfer to a standing blender to puree. Be very careful if you use the latter; only fill the blender half full with each batch, and hold the lid down tightly with a towel.

Taste and season with ginger, salt and pepper. Like most soups, this is significantly better after a night in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Idaho: World's Largest Producer of Fresh Water Rainbow Trout

I would never have guessed that Buhl, Idaho had the largest rainbow trout farm anywhere in the world. But, then again, I'd never heard of a place named Buhl.  The area is mostly flat farmland with immense rock walls on one side of the Snake River -- pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
Rainbow Trout

Clear Springs Foods in Buhl raises between 24-26 millions pounds of trout annually, that's 70-75 percent of all Idaho’s trout production. And, Idaho produces more trout
than any other state. At any given time about 10 million fish thrive in their fresh water facilities. Now, that's a lot of fish.  

A natural phenomenon occurs at the edge of the walls of Snake River Canyon creating an ideal situation for trout farming.  Heavy winter snows in the Tetons area melt in the spring, thus filling an immense underground lava rock aquifer – one the size of Lake Erie. The water works it’s way southwest via gravity and emerges at Buhl in a gushing roar of pure oxygenated water, always at a constant temperature of 58 degrees. Since those are the exact environmental conditions trout prefer, this location makes the most perfect spot on earth to raise Rainbow Trout.   

Trout Pond at Clear Springs Foods
No surprise then that trout operations in the area date back to 1928, however, Clear Springs was founded in 1966. The company now manages the entire production process from selective breeding to growing, harvesting, cleaning, deboning, packaging and distributing nationwide. Somehow it seemed magical, almost Godlike to me; I was totally amazed.  

I toured parts of the plant, seeing labs used for testing, the breeding area and indoor and outdoor tanks where the fish grow.  Although trout typically spawn in the fall, by careful selection and specialized lighting to adjust the length of day, Clear Springs is able to stagger the normal spawning cycle to provide a continuous supply of eggs year 'round.

The eggs are placed in incubators where they are bathed in spring water for about 10 days until they hatch. The young fish (called fry as in small fry) are then transferred to indoor ponds to continue growth. When they reach three inches in length, they're moved to outdoor ponds.  Here they are nurtured for up to an additional year, until they reach a typical market weight of 16 to 28 ounces.

All ponds are constantly inventoried and monitored for health. The fish are fed a consistent diet of high quality nutrition including vitamins, minerals and protein.

At the optimal time, live trout are trucked to the nearby processing plant and placed in holding ponds. The fish then travel through computerized weighing and sorting lines and into chill tanks for about 30 minutes.  They are then packaged as "Dressed Fish" meaning they still have their head, tail and fins or sent to other stations for further processing such as fileting and breading.  Trout burgers, anyone?
Trout Filets
Finally, the trout are shipped fresh or frozen in refrigerated trucks across the US.  Some customers receive air shipments.

The water flowing through the farms and processing plants is closely monitored under very strict codes. The plants manage their waste by manufacturing liquid fertilizer and somehow remain non-consumptive water users.

From now on when I see Rainbow Trout on a menu, I will think of Clear Springs Foods in Buhl, Idaho.