Posts tagged ‘travel’

Apricot Chicken in Croatia

The story of this dinner begins with our infamous train ride from Sarajevo to Ploce. I really wish that I took a picture of our train car, but you will just have to imagine. My friends can attest that my description is not an overexaggeration. The car we sat in looked like it was straight out of 1970. The seats were uppholstered in blue velvet, and were definitely not spaced well. There were two awkward groupings of four, another pair, and a single seat. The were spaced too far apart to maximize the number of people on the train, but too close to want to sit with strangers. We couldn’t find seats together, and so sat two and one, all awkwardly facing Bosnian men. To top things off, my chair was broken and the arm of the seat fell off every time I moved, and our windows were broken. At first this just meant it was hot, but later it meant that we were trapped in lung clogging smoke as a lady in the car in front of us chain smoked for the entire 5 hour trip. The journey was slower than scheduled, it was hot, it was hard to breathe, and we were all a little flustered by the end. The scenery out the window was beautiful, but was not quite enough to make up for the dilapidated and smoke-filled train car.

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Because food is so cheap at Bosnian markets, Azra thought ahead and stuffed her backpack with market purchases from the previous evening. We brought along figs, plums, apricots, peppers, peaches, onion, and some other veggies for dinners. We were worried about being searched at the border, but the Croatian patrols hardly looked past the American symbols on our passports before walking past us on the train. The Bosnian family behind us was not so lucky, and Azra reported with a smirk that they were trying to claim their bundles of produce as snacks for the train as their bags were searched at the border.

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While we were cleared at the border, not all of the fruit survived the journey. After being lugged from cab to train to ferry to bus, most of the apricots were DOA. Not being a waster of food, I brainstormed how to use them. Dinner? Dessert? Breakfast? After a trip to the market and purchase of some chicken breasts from the butcher, I knew some Apricot Chicken was in store. First, I pounded out the thick chicken breasts with a frying pan. My friends were alarmed by the noise since I began without warning, but learned the method to my madness. Not only did we get two meals out of our three chicken breasts, but the chicken was also much more tender and took up flavor better once thinned out a bit. To start the sauce for the chicken, I sautéed up half of a white onion in some olive oil. I added around 10 small apricots that we pitted and halved. I let these begin to cook down a bit and then added a splash of red wine for some extra liquid. I moved the fruit to the side and added the chicken breasts to the pan, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. I covered them back with some liquid from the sauce and let them simmer for a bit on each side. The chicken soaked up the flavor from the sauce, and came out perfectly sweet and tangy.

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Dinner was served with some gnocchi, which were perfect to soak up the extra apricot sauce. We also cooked up some purple string beans, which I had to have from the market solely because they were purple. They lost some of their color when steamed, but they tasted exactly like green beans! I loved having veggies back on my dinner plate, and was really pleased with my impromptu dinner. I wish I had written down the recipe, but I am too far removed from when I made this dinner to be able to write down exactly what I did. Hopefully the description above is enough of a springboard if you want to attempt to create your own version of apricot chicken! Experiment a little to see what happens… the wine was a last-minute addition that made a huge difference.

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September 3, 2011 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Packing a Picnic

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Our daily life in Orebic was all about relaxation. We would run along the ocean in the morning, then walk to the market for fresh bread and any odds and ends we needed for the day. After a breakfast of fresh fruit and bread with nutella, we would make sandwiches and pack our picnic lunch for the beach. We would spend hours relaxing in front of the beautiful Adriatic Sea, alternating between swimming, reading and napping. Put best by Melissa, “The extent of my planning right now is to finish this chapter, turn over, and then take a nap.” If that isn’t relaxing, I don’t know what is!

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There is pretty much only one type of bread in Croatia, just baked into a bunch of different shapes and sizes! One of my bakery transactions was solo, since Azra was picking up something at the pharmacy next door. I stood in front of the wall of bread trying to figure out what to get, when the woman informed me that they were all basically the same and it was impossible to make a bad choice. How true that is when the bread is freshly baked each day! We got huge round rolls one morning, which were bigger than my face! Another morning, we decided to get the longer sandwich rolls.

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The sandwiches were pretty simple – tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, and ajvar. But they were oh so tasty! Ajvar is an Eastern European spread made of roasted red peppers and tons of spices. I miss it so much! It took what is a pretty plain sandwich to a whole new level! I either need to find somewhere in Boston to purchase this or figure out a way to make it on my own… any recommendations? ;)

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We also got to enjoy picnic lunches while on the beach in Italy, and were quite adept at pulling together to-go meals for long travel rides. Simple meals of bread and cheese can be really satisfying when they are good quality, and eaten by starving travelers! Some fresh fruit on the side for balance and you have yourself a simple, portable and satisfying lunch.

Question: What is your idea of the perfect picnic?

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September 2, 2011 at 9:00 am 4 comments

Wash it all Down with a Beer

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I loved my time in Prague, but let’s just say the food there was not the highlight of my experience. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the architecture, had fun exploring the city, and really enjoyed experiencing all that Prague had to offer. Oh, and I loved the Czech pilsners. Why let food take the main stage, then, when the beer is so good?

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A lot of our meals in Prague were not the healthiest. But they were good, and went really well with the beer. Some highlights: fried cheese, schnitzel, and Barvarian sausage. Fried cheese, or smažený sýr, is esentially a glorified mozzarella stick, but with a different cheese in the shape of a patty. You can enjoy it as an appetizer, a snack, or make it into a meal with the choice of American potatoes or French fries (can anyone guess the difference here?) Azra and I got this with an order of chicken schnitzel, a thin chicken breast dipped in egg and then coated in flour and lightly pan fried. Our schnitzel came with a mushroom sauce, and our choice of potato side. We got an order of American potatoes with one, essentially seasoned potato wedges, and fries with the other, and shared everything that was on the table. The American potatoes were so much better, or maybe I was just really missing home and extra-patriotic at this point! ;) Of course, we each had a big beer to help everything go down.

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Another highlight delicacy street meal was a Barvarian sausage. It was our final night in Prague, and we were short on cash and full from our earlier heavier meal of svíčková. We stopped by a street vendor in Wenceslas Square, where Azra got a chicken burger and I, going all out for one of my last days as an omnivore, got a sausage. It was my first time in three years (the last time was an Italian sausage at Fenway Park). It was tasty greasy, and filling, like any good street dog should be. Not a decision I would repeat, but a fun way to spend our last beautiful night – sitting outside, enjoying the food, tourist watching, and soaking up the scenery.

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August 25, 2011 at 9:00 am 8 comments

Where Coffee Takes More Time Than Lunch

How does one have enough hours in a day to enjoy both leisurely meals and coffee? In America, we decide not to choose and rush through both. In Bosnia, however, day time meals tend to be slightly more rushed to ensure a lengthy coffee break in the afternoon. I have shared a little bit about my experience with Bosnian coffee and the way Bosnians celebrate with special meals, so now here is a glimpse into the daily food life in Sarajevo.

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Fast food is definitely not an American concept. Just watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and you’ll see that fast, street food is ubiquitous. What is unique is that fast food actually tastes good in other countries, and is something people are proud of! A common sight on the streets of Sarajevo is a vendor selling roasted corn, leading to funny glimpses of people walking down the street just nibbling off the cob. Ice cream stands are everywhere, and they sure are marketed well! The pans are filled to the brim with volumes of fluffy flavors, and night they are back-lit so that they really stand out.

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Not hard to sell ice cream on a hot day in the first place, but these were truly irresistible. The rest of the stands are filled with national favorites like cevapi, pita, and hamburger (not just any hamburger, but a pressed sandwich closer to the size of your face than your hand. My friend’s theory as to why the first McDonald’s being built in Sarajevo will be unpopular – the burgers are too small!). These are eaten quickly or taken to go, and for really cheap! Each meal on the street cost $5 – to feed three of us!

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Ćevapi is actually the name of the meat served in the dish, but also refers to the platter that you order. They are like sausage links, but are made of ground beef and lamb, since most Bosnians are Muslim and there are no pork products to be found anywhere in Sarajevo (as far as I could tell). They come stuffed inside a giant piece of bread called somun, almost like pita since it forms a pocket but much fluffier and softer. This is served with raw chopped onion on the side, which sounds intense but actually really complements the sweet flavors of the meat and softness of the bread well. Alongside, it is customary to have a plain yogurt drink, which tastes like yogurt but is much thinner in consistency. That is nice to dampen any spice and onion flavor left on your tongue!

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Pita is the general term for the pies that are found in most cafes and bakeries. They are made of layers of phyllo dough, stuffed with different fillings, and then rolled. Homemade versions lead to personal sized rolls, but the bakery makes gigantic pita that they then cut and serve. Pita filled with ground beef is called burek; with spinach and cheese, zeljanica; and with potato, krompiruša. They are greasy, but delicious and packed with flavor. We got a piece of each to try on our picnic to the Vrelo Bosne, the beautiful springs at the start of the River Bosna. I think the spinach and cheese was my favorite, but they were all so good it was hard to choose! The water at Vrelo Bosne is ice cold and crystal clear, and the park is naturally divided into perfect picnic spots by all of these little springs. A nice change of scenery from the usual people watching along busy streets in Sarajevo!

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Question: How do you like the new look for my blog? 

August 18, 2011 at 8:00 am 124 comments

A Day Trip to Dresden

“Wanna go to Germany for the day?” Sure, why not! The blessing and curse of traveling in continental Europe is how close and easily accessible everything is. We traveled from Prague to Dresden in 3 hrs for less than 600 Kc (divide that by 17 to get to USD – such fun mental math, right?) and were able to see the city and a bit of German countryside in a nicely packaged day trip. However, I also feel like this might be a trap for a lot of overly enthusiastic backpackers. We saw many people camped out at various train stations throughout Europe, and overheard excited college students talking about spending one day here and another day there and an afternoon somewhere else. With a pace that fast, how do you really get to experience the place that your visiting? Maybe it works for some people, but I really enjoyed getting to spend a little longer in each of the countries I visited, even if we only spent a day in certain cities.

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With that being said, I am really happy that I got to go to Germany even if just for a day. I connected through Munich twice before going to Dresden, and through Dusseldorf once more on my way home. I can’t make a pitstop in a country without ever seeing one of its cities! Dresden was also my only option for a study abroad program in college as a science major, and I chose not to go because it was too early in my curriculum for me to feel comfortable venturing to Europe on my own. I also wanted to see what real Germans were like, since I was most often confused for a German and not American tourist while abroad (the Lufthansa flight attendants seemed to have the hardest time figuring out where I was from, but I was also stopped on the street a few times in Prague for directions by German speaking tourists). Even though I only spent a day in Germany, I accomplished two of my three goals! I got to see all of the Old Town, which has been completely rebuilt since the bombings in WWII. I am unsure if I actually got to see too many Germans since we were mainly in tourist areas, though!

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With only one day, it is hard to tell what I think of German food. I can say that I struggled to find something to order from the menu. I was on beef overload from the previous few days in Prague, but was rescued when my friend spotted a salted herring dish. Seafood is not a mainstay in German cuisine, except for this salted fish. It was a young herring, so the fish was split and served whole overtop a sour cream based slaw (I think it had gherkin and apples?) with a side of parsley potatoes. Each ingredient on its own was not enjoyable. The fish was really salty, the potatoes a bit bland, and the cream sauce missing something. However, when all three components came together in one bite, it was heavenly. I am glad I got to try this instead of trying to find something more “traditional.” It was unique and definitely stuck out as something completely different from what I eat at home as well as what I ate on my trip. Plus, the salty fish paired perfectly with a big, German unfiltered beer! Can’t go to Germany without getting one of those, now, can you?

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August 17, 2011 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Whine and Cheese

Year 2 of med school started Monday, and all I really want to do is whine about how much reading there already is. Well, honestly, it would be manageable if I could motivate myself to do a little bit each day! But instead three days have already piled up, leaving me a whining, complaining mess. (I’ll break out the world’s smallest violin for myself, thanks!) End of my venting… I’ll cheer up thinking about all of the goodies up for grabs in CCK’s amazing give away, and remembering some awesome stories from my vacation!

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My new favorite indulgence is wine and cheese. That’s not completely true. I loved wine and I loved cheese before I left, but my love was renewed as I sampled some of the best cheese I have ever tried. I have already taken you on my tour through the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese making process, but that is not the only cheese I got to indulge in in Italy. Especially during the summer, it is too hot to eat dinner much earlier than dusk, which doesn’t happen until 8:30 or 9pm. With lunch at 1pm, that is a long time between meals! It is common instead to enjoy an apertivo, usually a glass of white wine with a platter of meats and cheeses. We biked to the neighboring town one evening, where there is a great cafe on the town square that Miriam’s family favors for a pre-dinner drink. For just a few euro, we got a refreshing glass of local white wine, and a platter of some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. My favorite was the drunken cheese, a cow’s milk cheese aged in red wine. Not hearing the description of what everything was, I just happily munched away. I reached for a piece of the purple-y pink cheese, thinking it was actually a bit of cured ham. I exclaimed, “This is so good… it almost tastes like cheese!” A little bit of a blonde moment…

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My cheese indulgences didn’t end in Italy! Before we left for Dresden, our host told us of a dairy that we simply had to visit. It was a little bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.
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The entire inside of the shop was decorated with blue-and-white tile and porcelain statues. I found out after sneaking a few pictures that cameras weren’t allowed… oops! After exploring the beautiful store for a few minutes, we made our way to the cheese counter to pick out a few cheeses for dinner.
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The woman spoke little English, and we spoke little German, but we relied on key distinctions like sharp or mild, Saxon, small or big, try or buy. We sampled several, but only purchases three small pieces. One was half a round of French Camembert, the second a piece of smoked Saxon Gouda, and the last an aged, herbed Saxon cheese whose real name I didn’t recognize. Each was unique and excellent, and made a perfect train picnic with a few rolls picked up from the bakery down the street! I particularly enjoyed the smoked cheese with the seedy rye bread as the beautiful German countryside rolled past the train window. A great splurge!
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August 11, 2011 at 7:00 am 4 comments

Too Much of a Good Thing

Restaurant options in Orebic were quite frankly underwhelming. We had been warned of this possibility by our friend before our arrival, but it was still disappointing to see that it was true. There were several restaurants dotting the shore line of the small town, but each boasted a very similar menu of pizza, Italian-style pasta dishes, or overpriced seafood. Further complicating the problem, everything contained ham! My friend, who is Muslim and cannot eat pork, therefore had even fewer options, the menu now pared down to three different pizzas she could choose from. Coastal Croatian cuisine is strongly influenced by neighboring Italy, but we knew the real deal was around the corner and did not want to overload on the available pasta options. Therefore, a limited selection of pizza it was whenever we went out!

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Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza. Maybe not as much as the next person, but a good slice of pizza can really hit the spot. I just usually don’t have that craving four days in a row. For this reason, we cooked at home for three dinners and brought picnic lunch to the beaches. Because we didn’t overload on pizza, it was really special when we did have it! Here are a few highlights from our restaurant outings!

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My favorite pizza had thinly sliced eggplant and fresh olives and was absolutely heavenly! Garlicky flavor with a great thin crust. We weren’t sure about ordering it at first because the English menu listed it as aubergine, which isn’t a term that any of us were familiar with. Azra actually had to look at the word in Croatian (the languages are similar enough to Bosnian) to figure out that it was an eggplant! We felt a little silly… but the pizza and the view made up for it! We enjoyed our pizza on our day trip to Korcula, a really beautiful old town that tries to take credit as Marco Polo’s birthplace, although I am still unconvinced of the historicity of their claims.

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The most surprising meal I ate was in Dubrovnik, where I ordered off the breakfast menu for lunch. The dish was entitled “The Dubrovnik” although I am unsure of why. It was a delicious platter of homemade garlic flat bread with smoked salmon, a few anchovies, freshly made feta cheese, and tomatoes. I traded my college roommate a bit of flat bread for some cucumbers to fully round out my meal. I decided that I didn’t like the salted anchovies after eating two of the four, but fully enjoyed the smoked fish, fresh feta and vegetables. And the garlic bread was out of this world. I could have been satisfied eating that alone.

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Of course most dinners were washed down with a good house beer (toceno pivo). What is better than pizza and beer? Not only was the beer really good, but it was also really cheap. Even if we cooked dinner at home, we frequented a restaurant with great outdoor seating for a big beer. One thing I might miss about Croatian restaurants! We even caught a display of fireworks there one evening, coincidentally on the evening before July 4th. Even as ex-pats we found a way to celebrate the 4th with watermelon, beer and fireworks!

August 9, 2011 at 8:00 am 2 comments

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