Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sugar Cookies with Pecans and Candied Ginger

I am on my second batch of these cookies. They are my go-to sugar cookie recipe by Martha Stewart. For these, I have personalized them by adding chopped pecans and finely minced candied ginger.

Sugar Cookies with Pecans and Candied Ginger
Makes about 2 dozens

4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup finely minced candied ginger

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.
2. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on high until light, pale in color, and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture until incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour and up to overnight.
3. When ready to bake, let dough stand at room temperature until soft enough to roll out, about 10 minutes. On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes and transfer to cookie sheet. Return to freezer for 15 minutes until firm.
4. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Patelles: A Trinidad Christmas Recipe

Trinidad pastels are similar to tamales of latin america: savory ground meats encased in a cornmeal dough and steamed to perfection. Pastelles are a staple on the Trinidad christmas menu; it a proud expression of the spanish influence on the country. As soon as we were old enough to help, my sister and I were recruited in the pastel-making ritual. And a ritual it is. First of all, during the week before Christmas, my father would gather bananas leaves. Since he owned agricultural estate at the time, it simply a matter of cutting a few leaves from a few banana trees. Then those leaves has to be washed, dried, and individually steamed to make them malleable enough to use as a wrap. These days, many grocery stores on the island sell pre-cut leaves.Here in Minnesota, I have opted to use parchment paper ( I can almost hear the collective gasp of my "Trini" relatives and friends) in place of the banana leaves because well frankly, I started this process way to late to find a way to locate these leaves in Minnesota. But dear friends, I find that parchment paper does the job just as well, and is much less work. Where would I have found the time within the past two hectic weeks to clean and steam banana leaves?

Another characteristic of pastelles is that the meat filling is typically ground beef. My version however uses ground chicken. Ninety five to five percent meat to fat ratio to be exact. Thanks to the Gold and Pump chicken company of Cold Spring Minnesota who has generously sent me samples of their new chicken products, I am using ninety five to five percent lean ground chicken.

Be it chicken or beef pastelles, making this dish always takes me back to a true island Christmas. A time of family, friends, great food, and warm weather; memories I welcome while looking out my window at the six inches of snow (and counting) that’s coming down.

Trinidad Pastelles
Makes about 2 dozens

2 lbs ground lean chicken
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup minced pimentos or jalepenos
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced olives
1/2 cup dark raisins

Corn Flour Dough:
2 yellow corn flour
2 1/2 to 3 cups hot water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tbsp vegetable oil

24 10" x 10 " parchment squares
kitchen string
bamboo steamer

Prepare the filling:
1. Combine the meat, worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, pimentos, cilantro, salt and pepper.
2. Add two tablespoon of vegetable oil to a large skillet and cook the meat mixture for 20 to 25 minutes. It should be light brown in color and most the the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the olives and raisins. Set aside while you prepare the cornmeal case.

Prepare the corn flour dough:
Combine all the ingredients until they stick together. Place two tablespoons

Assemble the pastelles:
1. Place one corn flour dough ball in the middle of one parchment square. Flatten to a 6 inch square.
2. Place up to two tablespoons of chicken filling on one half of the corn flour square. Lift the parchment that is under the other half of the dough and fold over the filling, sealing the edges as you go. Fold the lose edges of parchment under the pastelle and secure with some string.
5. Repeat with the remaining cornmeal dough and chicken filling.
6. Steam in a bamboo steamer for 20 to 25 minutes. Discard the string and parchment before serving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes

This year, we are having Thanksgiving in New York with my in-laws. Even so, I still get to do the turkey and, well, practically, the entire meal. Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law have graciously entrusted the dinner to me. My sister -in-law even offered to be my "sous-chef." Nice! My dream of having someone help with prepping for a large meal is finally being realized.
The following are some of the side dishes I will be making tonight as well as a couple of my past Thanksgiving recipes.

I also want to share with you a photo of our newest family member: our Maltipoo puppy! (We have not decided on a name for him as yet.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Giveaway *CLOSED*

It's time for another giveaway! I am again partnering with CSN stores (distributors of everything for your kitchen, including utensils, bar tables and stools, and appliances. ) All you have to do for a chance to win a $45 online gift certificate (good at any one of CSN online stores) is to become a follower or Healthy and Gourmet on Twitter, Facebook, or on this page, or make a comment on the previous post. Thanks and good luck!
*Giveaway open to only legal residents of the US and Canada, and ends Wednesday 24th, November, 2010.


Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Stuff a Pumpkin

Take a trip to the farmers' market this time of the year and it will be hard to miss the intense spread of orange before you. It is pumpkin season and stalls are lined with all varieties of edible and ornamental squash. And I, for one, am thrilled. There is so much about this squash that I look forward to. Homemade pumpkin pies, soups, and stuffed pumpkins.

Stuffing a pumpkin requires a little work but the rewards are well worth it. The following are four easy steps I have complied that attempt to simplify this endeavor. The stuffing itself can be made and kept in the refrigerator from the night before.

How to stuff a pumpkin:

1. Choose a pumpkin. Pie pumpkins - or sugar pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, as they are sometimes called - are smaller and easier to handle than other edible pumpkins, so this is my first choice. And the flesh itself is sweeter than other pumpkins. A three pound pie pumpkin is enough to serve four people.

2. Prepare the pumpkin. Using a damp paper towel, wipe the pumpkin clean. Cut the top off about two inches below the stalk. Then scoop out the guts (seeds and stringy bits.) I find the easiest way to do this is by using a dinner spoon. Once all of the guts have been removed, place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and brush the interior with a mixture of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper.

3. Bake the pumpkin at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes until the flesh is fork tender. Remove from the oven and spoon in a filling mixture (See recipe below.) Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. To serve, you can do one of two ways: cut into wedges, or scoop out the insides, trying to get chunks of pumpkin with the filling as you do.

Pepper and Onion Filling

6 to 8 slices prosciutto or bacon
1 onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
3 slices day-old bread, cubed
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup grated cheddar
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup chopped scallions

1. Cook the prosciutto or bacon in a skillet until browned. Remove and add two tablespoons of vegetable oil (if you used bacon you might have enough fat in the skillet already) and the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and rosemary. Cook until softened, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool before adding the remaining ingredients. (Adding the cheese to the hot pepper-onion mixture will cause it to melt and you'd have a messing time trying to spoon the mixture into the hollowed pumpkin.)
2. Once the pepper-onion mixture has cooled, add the remaining ingredients, mixing well so that the dried bread cubes absorb all the liquid.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Green Pea Soup (served with Crab Cake)

The base for this soup is adapted from Giada De Laurentis' Pea and Basil Soup recipe. Her version is delicious, light, and slightly sweet. I tried her recipe with cilantro instead of basil here. And to make it into a more filling dinner dish, topped it with a crab cake (I always have frozen crab cakes in my freezer; they are a quick fix during the week without the laborious undertaking.)

Green Pea Soup (served with Crab Cake)
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen green peas
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of ground pepper
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup cream
2 prepared crab cakes
light sour cream (optional)
croutons (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until softened and brown on the edges. Add the peas and cilantro and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the peas have warmed through.
2. Transfer to a blender and add the chicken broth. Puree until smooth.
3. Return to the pan and add the cream. Cook until hot throughout. Divide into two bowls and serve with a crab cake topped with sour cream and croutons.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mini Apple Fritters

It has been weeks since my last post, and my apologies for this long absence. However, I have a good reason: We were in the process of moving! After three months of house-hunting, and all the work and preparation (and hundreds of spousal disagreements; who knew I felt so strongly about a breakfast table or that he was adamant about wood floors?) that go into it, we are finally in our new home! Even though we are no longer within walking distance of some of the best restaurants in the city, the benefits are numerous including, of course, our beautiful house, all the space (my extra baking pans now have their own drawer in the kitchen and not in the coat closet!) and the ease and quiet of suburban life. And an added bonus is the beautiful wetlands behind us, teeming with wildlife, including these super-cute wild turkeys.

So the past couple of months were hectic. And during that time, it was impossible to cook. Save for making coffee and microwaving some frozen egg rolls, I last time I cooked a meal was way too long ago. Now, my fingers are twitching to turn on some burners. And just so you know, I have a nice line up too, beginning with this recipe for mini apple fritters. So stay tuned! And in case you were wondering how dare I post a recipe for something deep fried on a blog that starts with the word "healthy," my answer: who doesn't like fried food? My approach is moderation - you won't see me eating this way every day or even every week for that matter.

Mini Apple Fritters
Makes about 20

2 cups apples, chopped (about two apples)

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 cup cake flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup low fat milk

1 large egg, separated

1 tsp vanilla extract

vegetable oil for frying


1/2 cup raw sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1. Prepare the apples first by melting the butter in a saucepan, and adding the apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Cook apples until softened and the smallest pieces have melted. Remove from heat and cool.

2. To make the batter, combine the flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

3. Beat the egg white to stiff peaks.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture until totally incorporated, at which point it should be thick and sticky. Mix in half of the egg whites to make the batter more smooth. Fold in the remaining egg whites, this time taking your time not to over mix, folding about four to five times. Finally, fold in the cooled apple mixture.

5. To cook, heat enough oil in a deep frying pan, and drop scoops of batter into the hot oil. (I used a 1 1/2 tablespoon ice cream scoop to get even sized fritters.) Fry on each side for 2 to 3 minutes until medium to dark brown. Drain on paper towels. Combine 1/2 cup of raw sugar and 2 teaspoon cinnamon, and properly toss the warm fritters in this mixture before serving.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trinidad Style Corn Soup

It's almost officially autumn, and the significant drop in temperatures can only mean one thing in culinary terms: time for soups. Now, I'm not a soup person. It is not the first item I would order on menu nor is it the first thing I would think about making for dinner. For me, there is a time a place for soups. The time: when it is cold. The place: at home.

Trinidad corn soup is the exception to all of my eccentric soup rules. The reason being the obvious: it is a recipe from where I grew up. Nonetheless, this is not something that many people cooked at home. Corn soup is a common part of the street food culture there. Therefore, to truly enjoy, we locals had to go "up the road," a phrase used to denote the center of whichever town you lived in. "Up the road" there would be sometimes two or three corn-soup vendors who usually sold their delicious variations on Friday and Saturday nights. Eating corn soup in the middle of town was very often incorporated into weekend happenings. Served in deep disposable bowls, it's easier to consume than one would assume.

With this being the onset of corn harvest, what better time to try this recipe. Here, I used fresh corn on the cob, however canned corn works just as well. The one thing you cannot get with canned corn is the huge chucks of corn added almost at the end of cooking to make this a truly Trinidad Style soup. I like to use my pressure cooker for this recipe not only because it reduces the cooking time but it pulverizes the split peas and softened the corn kernels to a consistency that is smoother than would be achieved by using a food processor. That being said, enjoy this soup but please be careful when using any pressure cooker. Follow manufacturer's instructions to prevent serious injury.

Trinidad Style Corn Soup
Serves 4

4 ears of corn
1/2 cup yellow split peas
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbps chopped cilantro
2 0z smoked bacon (or salted pig's tail)
hot sauce (your choice)
1/4 cup evaporated milk (optional)

1. Remove the kernels from three ears of corn. Set aside. Slice the remaining one ear of corn into 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick rounds. Set aside.
2. Saute the onions, sweet peppers, carrots, and garlic in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the split peas, fresh corn kernels, cilantro and bacon, and stir well. Pour in the chicken broth and pressure cook for 15 minutes on medium heat until the to completely pulverize the split peas.
3. Stir in the reserved chucks of corn. Cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes until the chunks of corn have cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly. Stir in hot sauce (how much and what type depends on your preference) and evaporated milk, if using. Garnish with chopped chives.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Photos from Minneapolis Farmers Market Cooking Show

Last Saturday, I had an fantastic cooking presentation at the farmers market. The weather turned out nicely (compared to last year when I did the show and it was 50 degrees and windy) as did the crowds, and my recipes. You just never know when you're cooking in a new kitchen, what might go wrong, and thankfully nothing did. Emily Noble was a very capable host as was Sandy Hill (producer of Market Talk on AM 950) who so graciously helped with prepping. Here are some photos from the event. To see the entire album, click here for my Facebook page.

Prepping with Sandy Hill and Emily Noble.

Demonstrating how to layer a raspberry trifle.

Finished Product: Raspberry Trifle.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Raspberry Trifle

Here is my second recipe for the cooking presentation at the farmers market this Saturday. Want to know a secret? I've been eating trifle for three days in a row. And tomorrow is going to make it four days in a row. All in the name of taste-testing. Someone had to do it!
Must love food blogging!

Raspberry Trifle
Serves 6

6 - 8 pints fresh raspberries
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup raspberry liqueur
1/2 quart heavy whipping cream
1 cup confectioners sugar
16 oz fat free plain or vanilla greek yogurt
1 pound cake (8" x 5")

1. Combine the raspberry, honey, and liqueur and, using a fork, press into the berries to macerate them. Allow to sit while you prepare the other ingredients. The berries should break down into a thick mush with sweet juices.
2. Cut the pound cake into cubes. Set aside
3. Whisk the cream and confectioner's sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the yogurt.
4. To assemble the trifle, start with layering the bottom of a trifle dish or individual trifle cups with a single layer of cubed pound cake. Spread some of the raspberry mixture along the top making sure to get some juices in there to soak into the cake. Follow this with a layer of cream topping. Continue this pattern of layering until you have used up all of the ingredients.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Salmon and Sweet Potato Cakes Recipe for Minneapolis Farmers Market

Exciting news! This year, I have been invited to do a cooking presentation at the Minneapolis Farmer's market. This is my second year being part of their Market Talk program and I'm thrilled! I will be preparing two recipes utilizing many ingredients found at the market. Salmon Cakes with Sweet Potatoes (see recipe below) made with fresh salmon caught by Matt Oxford of Wild Run Salmon. My second recipe is a dessert: an easy to assemble Raspberry Trifle. (Yes, raspberries are still in season so get them before they are all gone for the year!) The best part? You can sample these recipes. So come early!

My salmon cakes are the most popular food at home these days. We have them in a sandwich (just like a crab cake sandwich) and as a side dish. Both the salmon and the sweet potato have to be cooked in advance. For the salmon, my method is baking it in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes but other options (faster options) are steaming, grilling, and searing in a skillet. However you decide to precook the salmon, the most important step is to season it well. Salt and pepper of course but try adding other flavors here because it will enhance the finished cakes. My choice for extra flavoring is maple syrup; a nice layer adds sweetness and caramelizes the top. *

The sweet potato too is roasted in the oven. I would not suggest boiling it (which was what I did when I first made this recipe) because it becomes water logged and leads to mushy cakes. No good.*

And that's it: a couple quick prep and you're ready to make some savory salmon and sweet potato cakes.

Hope to see you at the market this Saturday 4th at 10:30 am!

Salmon and Sweet Potato Cakes
Serves 4 to 5

1 sweet potato (about 3/4 to 1 pound) roasted and mashed* (see above)
1 pound salmon, cooked and crumbled * (see above)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
1/2 cup finely diced onions
1/4 chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

1. Set a skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons vegetable oil. Saute the peppers and onions until they have softened and the onions have browned slightly.
2. Combine the sauteed peppers, onions, cooked salmon, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix well.
3. Assemble a work station with the salmon mixture in one bowl, and the bread crumbs in a separate dish next to salmon mixture.
4. To form cakes: Scoop two tablespoons of the mixture into the palm of your hand and form into a ball, then flatten to form a patty about half an inch thick. Coat patty with bread crumbs on both sides. Cook in a skillet over medium heat, two to three minutes on each side until golden brown. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.

Pound Cake French Toast

I've been hosting my friend Stephanie for the weekend. She's visiting from Seattle, and I had not see her for about two years. Way too long! So I couldn't think of a better occasion to make this recipe: pound cake french toast. Probably the most luxurious of luxurious brunch foods.
The pound cake used here was my last production (see previous post) but of course any old pound cake will do. And the raspberry sauce is optional but highly recommended. Enjoy!

Pound Cake French Toast
Serves 2

4 slices pound cake
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Raspberry Sauce (see below)

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt one tablespoon of butter.
2. Whisk milk, egg, and spices together. Dredge each piece of cake, on both sides, with this egg mixture. Cook in the hot, buttered skillet for two minutes on each side.
3. Serve with raspberry sauce and light sour cream.

For the Raspberry Sauce: Puree one cup of fresh raspberries and press through a sieve. Discard seeds. Usually raspberries are too tart for me so I would add a couple tablespoons of honey here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blueberry Swirl Pound Cake

Making pound cake has to be one of the most enjoyable baking experiences for me. What is it about whipped butter and sugar that is so comforting? Needless to say, very rarely do I need an excuse to make a pound cake. My husband is also a huge fan (of eating it, that is) so it's usually gone before the end of the week.

Today, I decided to make a blueberry version by folding in pureed berries to the prepared batter. Making the puree is straight forward: simply blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. I went a little further by evaporating off most of the liquid before folding into the batter. Pound cake recipes usually don't call for any real liquid so I didn't want to throw off the recipe by adding a very watery puree. Also by preparing it this way, the skins if the berries and all their fiber and antioxidant properties are retained. Another good reason to make this cake!

Blueberry Swirl Pound Cake
Makes one 9" x 5" loaf

1 cup fresh blueberries
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup densely packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Set oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9" x 5" loaf pan with baking spray and flour lightly. Set aside.
2. Puree the berries in a blender, then pour into a sauce pan set over medium low heat. Allow the liquid to evaporate and the puree to reduce to about 1/4 cup of thick berry pulp, about 1o minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. Whisk together butter and sugar on high for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking between additions. Add the vanilla extract followed by the flour mixture. Remove 1 cup of batter and add to the berry puree, combining thoroughly. Pour batter-berry mixture back to remainder of batter and fold in so that the batter is streaked with blue.
5. Pour into prepared baking dish, and smooth out the top lightly. Sprinkle the almonds evenly across the surface. Bake at 325 degrees F for 50 minutes to 1 hour until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and and cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Honey Mustard Chicken and Pineapple Kebabs

The ability of food to transport us through time and space is undeniable. Whenever I cook with pineapple I am taken back to our trips to Hawaii. To the many roadside fruit-stands, to the sweet cold frosties on Kauai (at Banana Joe's) made simply of pureed frozen pineapple slices, to the sounds of the waves on Kaanapali beach, the striking orange shades of Maui's breathtaking sunsets, the clean fresh morning breeze coming off the Pacific ocean towards the Big Island, to swimming with sea turtles back on Maui. Hawaii is truly synonymous with pineapples (among other things) but my relationship with this fruit goes way back to my early years (way, way back.)

When I was a child, my father planted a pineapple garden at the back of our house in the Trinidad "countryside." The neat rows of pineapple crowns made for a pretty sight and an exciting obstacle track for my sister and me until they grew to full size and playing in there was just asking for trouble. (Trust me, being poked and scratched by the long spiny leaves is not fun.) It was a short hobby of his but it seemed as though we ate pineapple for a long time. The variety he planted was one of the sweet and tangy varieties. But the Maui Gold variety is the best I have ever tasted: ultra sweet with a low acid content ( so no tangyness.) And did you know that it even has more vitamin C than other varieties? Yes, more than three times! All the more reason to add some pineapple to your summer meals.

Honey Mustard Chicken and Pineapple Kebabs
Serves 4 to 5

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups large pineapple chunks
wooden skewers

1. Cut chicken into 1" chunks and combine with honey, dijon mustard, yellow mustard, and cilantro. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Of course, better if refrigerated over night.)
2. Skewer the chicken and pineapple chunks on wooden skewers and cook on a hot grill for about eight to ten minutes, turning once, until chicken is cooked thoroughly. (Alternatively this can be done in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes until chicken is cooked through. )

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chicken and Shrimp Paella

After an intense month of joy and heartache, Spain has own the 2010 world cup. On that eventful Sunday, my husband and I planned our day around the event. Spain was our second choice after the US didn't make it into the final group of sixteen. Isn't that the magic of the game? That after the crushing loss from the US departure, all of our hopes were revived with Spain in the final. That two people with no real ties to that country (except my diluted Spanish heritage, and our love of spanish food, music, and culture) would find so much happiness in a single goal, to me, is part of the magic of the game. And not just us; among our freinds everyone was interested in the final match. One person even threatened to "unfriend" me on Facebook because of my exuberant status update after the win. Needless to say, she's a Netherlands fan, and of course was only joking... I think.

In honor of the event, I made this seafood and chicken paella. This is my basic go-to recipe for paella but this was the first time that I've made it in my new paella pan from Kitchen Window in Uptown Minneapolis. And what a difference it makes, especially in terms of a reduction in cooking time. And that chewy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan; worth every cent!

Chicken and Shrimp Paella
Serves 3 to 4

2 oz prosciutto
2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed*
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced bell pepper
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1 1/2 cup long grain white rice
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup green peas
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
8 to 10 raw shrimp, with tails on

1. In a large pot or paella pan over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook the prosciutto until crispy. Remove and add the chicken. Cook for about 15 minutes until evenly browned. Remove and add the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and peppers for another 8 to 10 minutes until they have browned on the edges.
2. Add the rice and saffron threads. Stir thoroughly until the rice becomes glossy and is coated nicely by the onion mixture. Pour 2 1/2 cups chicken broth over the rice and stir. It takes about another 20 minutes for the rice to cook. Stir occasionally and add more chicken broth or hot water (up to 1 cup more) if needed.
3. Once the rice has cooked, add the raw shrimp. Stir and allow shrimp to cook for another 3 or four minutes until pink throughout. Evenly layer the cooked chicken, tomatoes, peas, and crunchy prosciutto on the top before serving.

*I always like to season chicken for recipes like this, i.e. recipes where the chicken is just part of the main dish. It's a technique I've learnt from growing up in Trinidad. So here, I seasoned the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, one crushed garlic clove and the leaves of one sprig of thyme and a teaspoon of paprika.
Also, you would notice that I did not add salt to the recipe above and that is because the chicken broth already has a lot of sodium. Of course, if you find you need more salt, go right ahead and add to taste.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Turkey Burgers with Parsley and Fontina. Happy 4th!

Turkey breast is probably one of the healthiest meats available, with about 1 gram of fat per serving (33 grams.) Compared to regular hamburger meat which has about 7 grams of fat per serving and you see why I prefer to use turkey meat more often. Due to its lack of fat, turkey understandably dries out quickly during cooking. But I think the key to getting around this, especially for turkey burgers, is to use very high heat and to cook the patties for not more than four minutes on either side. I have also added chicken broth concentrate and fontina cheese to this recipe for extra moisture and "gooey-ness."

Happy 4th of July!

Turkey Burgers with Parsley and Fontina Cheese
Makes about eight 1" thick x 3 1/2 "diameter patties

1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup minced onion
2 large garlic cloves, grated or minced finely
2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated fontina cheese
3 tbsp chicken broth concentrate
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1. Combine all of the ingredients together. Mix well to fully incorporate - you might have to use your fingers for this.
2. Shape meat into patties about one inch thick and three and a half inch in diameter. Heat skillet over medium high heat and grease well with vegetable oil. Cook each patty for four minutes on one side and three to four minutes on the other side, until the center is no longer pick. Serve on whole wheat buns with lettuce and avocado.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Tart with Port Glaze

Last Wednesday, after a lazy morning of coffee, exercise, and brunch, we drove to the town of Delano (about fifty miles west of Minneapolis.) The quest: strawberries-picking at Apple Jack Orchards. Now, I've never been berry-picking before, but I expected fun to be had. Wide open spaces, fresh air, sweet fruit,and the satisfaction of comes with an awareness of the natural environment.

Not entirely the case. I would suggest embarking on this endeavor in the early morning or late afternoon. Not at midday when the sun is at its hottest. I always get asked, "But you are from the Caribbean, don't you like being in the sun? " Sure I do but physical activity in ninety degree heat can make even the most avid of sun worshippers a bit miserable. And, after all of that, a bee got caught in my hair and as I tried to free it, the little punk - I mean the cute, fuzzy, sweet-honey-producing bee - stung me! (Another suggestion, if you have long hair, tie in a pony tail or braid before strawberry picking.) Luckily, I'm not allergic to bee stings but never again will I complain about strawberry's high price. Locally grown strawberries are worth every cent.

All in all, the day wasn't a total disappointment . Even though it was the end of the season and most of the fruit were already gone by the time we got there, we (and by we, I mean mostly my husband) still managed to gather about three pounds. More than enough for this scrumptious tart.

My recipe is an adaptation of one I saved from a 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine; changing only a couple things. I added whole wheat pastry flour and cinnamon to the crust, and I tossed the berries with fresh mint for the filing, just to add another dimension of flavor and freshness.

Freshly picked, from the farmers market, or store bought, do try and get some local strawberries before the season is completely over. And if you do decide to drive to Apple Jack's Orchard, try their strawberry tart. Theirs is freshly made, and very good too!

Fresh Strawberry Tart with Port Glaze
(Adapted from Gourmet)
Serves 8

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp cold water

1 1/2 lb strawberries (trimmed)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup port
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup fat free cream cheese (softened at room temperature)
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
about 10 mint leaves

1. Combine pastry and all purpose flours, salt, and butter in a bowl using your fingers, pastry blender, or food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal with some lumpy pea-sized butter bits.
2. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon zest, and water, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir until mixture comes together. Gently knead dough on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms. Press into a 5-inch disk.
3. Place dough disk in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers or the bottom of a measuring cup, spread the dough to evenly cover the bottom and sides of pan. Prick bottom of shell with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
4. Pre-heat to 375 degrees F, with rack in the middle. Line tart shell with foil and pie weights and bake until sides are pale golden about, 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and continue to bake until deep golden all over, another 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan, about 45 minutes.

TO MAKE PIE FILLING (while tart shell cools):
1. Stir together strawberries and brown sugar in bowl and let stand about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain liquid into a saucepan, reserving berries. Add port to liquid in pan and boil until slightly thickened and reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.
3. Tear the mint leaves into thin strip and toss in reserved berries.
2. While port glaze is cooling, blend together mascarpone, cream cheese, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla until thoroughly incorporated.

To Assemble Tart:
Spread mascarpone-cream cheese mixture evenly in cooled tart shell. Top with strawberries, and drizzle with port glaze.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Zucchini and Chocolate Chip Muffins (& Minneapolis Farmers Market Recommendations)

Last summer, I made a batch of these muffins for my friend. And it was all she could talk about since then. Every time she saw me, it was either "I'm dreaming about those muffins - they were so good!" or "Can you please make me some more of those muffins - they are so good!" or "My birthday is coming up, and all I want is your zucchini muffins! " Well, she celebrated her birthday last weekend (on beautiful Lake Minnetonka) and I did make her a batch. Needless to say, she was happy.

You might be wondering why I didn't simply make her the muffins a long time ago. (It's not that I am a bad friend. Really.) At the time that I made her that first batch, it was the end of the zuchini season in Minnesota, and I have been waiting for zucchini to show up in the farmers market ever since. Our farmers grow an excellent crop and in my mind it was a travesty to purchase them anywhere else. Luckily, my friends accept my wild and sometimes wavering convictions (even though they might not share the same.)

Zucchini is slowly finding its way into the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Last Sunday, I saw them in about three stalls. But come July, they will be abundant. Also worth trying are hummus from Deana's Gourmet (the label on the container suggests using within seven days - it didn't make it past day two in my kitchen; that was that good), locally grown strawberries, and snap peas.

Zucchini and Chocolate Chip Muffins*
Makes 12 medium-sized muffins

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbps ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 eggs plus 1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or more if you like)

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tray with cupcake liners.
2. Combine the first six ingredients, and set aside.
3. Whisk together sugar, oil, sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, folding gently. Finally, fold in the zucchini and chocolate morsels, until fully incorporated.
3. Divide among cupcake liners and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set muffin tray on cooling rack for five minutes then remove muffins from pans, and allow to cool completely.

*Although it is unusual to frost muffins, birthdays require some sort of frosting, no? Here I used a basic butter frosting. Of course, this is optional.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dinner with Michael LaDuke & New Foodie Friends

With Executive Chef Michael LaDuke.

Meeting the chef. Knowing where your food comes from. A restaurant that listens to its costumers. That focuses on healthy eating. On fresh ingredients. These are not conventions commonly associated with a chain restaurant. But conventions change all the time. And this time it is being done by Red Lobster.

I was thrilled to have been invited to meet executive chef and Red Lobster's Senior Director of Culinary Development (and a regular judge on the Food Network) Michael LaDuke yesterday. Red Lobster has dramatically changed their menu to incorporate dishes that use simple, wholesome ingredients but most importantly taste good. An emphasis is being placed on healthy eating. Chef LaDuke and his team recognize that "food" and "healthy" should just go together. Plain and simple.

New items on the menu include Mango Jalapeno Shrimp Skewers, Maple Glazed Chicken - with a sauce that could make cardboard palatable - and a wide selection of fresh fish choices that are, in some places, characteristic of the region. For example, walleye and halibut feature predominantly on Minnesota menus. Furthermore, locals head chefs have full control over these selections. And being someone who appreciates the simplicity of flavors, I was quite impressed.

Yes, this a restaurant chain that is receptive to the wants of its customers. While you can still get traditional fare such as coconut shrimp, crab legs, and oh-so-good-but-with-a-billion-calories cheddar biscuits, this is a vibrant, modern family restaurant that's worth every morsel of fish and crumb of rich, dark chocolate cake.
Clockwise from top left to right: Maple-Glazed Chicken, Chocolate Wave, Tilapia in Spicy Soy Broth, New York Style Cheesecake with Strawberries, Maui Luau Shrimp and Salmon, Lobster Pizza, Mango-Jalapeno Shrimp Skewers, and Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie.

This was also a great opportunity to meet three other Minneapolis bloggers. From left to right in the photo below:

Jennifer @ Prior Fat Girl

Four Minnesota Bloggers.

One final group shot with the chef.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lemon Parmesan Crusted Tilapia Fillets

A common joke in Minnesota is that we have only two seasons: winter and construction. I would say the more precise categorization would be winter and exercise seasons. A recent magazine article listed Minneapolis as one of the best places to be active in the country. It seems that from the first day that the mercury rises above fifty, the masses are out jogging , walking, kayaking or swimming around Minneapolis lakes. I among them. I especially like the days when there is clear, just azure blue, and the wind is just gusty enough to create gentle undulations on the surface of the lakes but not strong enough to blow my exercise cap off! Perfect weather for hours of outdoor activity.

But all that exercise does work up an appetite. There's plenty of choices around the lakes, and around Minneapolis in general, for standard summer food. Hotdog stands, and fish fry, burger, and pizza joints. But such foods will eventually defeat the purpose of exercise if eaten on a regular basis. So I often make my own post work out meals. Since fish is an excellent source of protein but light in fat calories, I think it works well for this purpose. Filling and flavorful, my parmesan fish recipe uses freshly grated cheese, tons of fragrant lemon zest, a little bread crumbs and herbs. It's great on a salad, in a sandwich, with rice or on it's own. An almost, guilt-free dish. Enjoy!

Lemon-Parmesan Crusted Tilapia Fillets
Makes 4 servings

4 tilapia fillets
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup bread crumbs (seasoned or unseasoned)
zest of two lemons
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of one lemon

1. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Set oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Using paper towels, pat the fillets dry. Set aside.
3. Combine the cheese, bread crumbs, lemon zest, cilantro, salt and pepper (I used 1/2 tsp of each but add to your preference.) Coat each fillet with cheese-herb mixture, gently pressing the mixture unto each side of the fish so that it creates a thick coating.
4. Space fillets evenly on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until the entire fillet is opaque throughout. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top before serving.

And we have a winner....

The winner of the CSN gift certificate is Rachel Engstrand of New York! Thanks to all that entered and stay tuned for more giveaways.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Giveaway

It's time for a new giveaway. I'm partnering with CSN stores again; this time the prize is a $40 gift certificate to be used at any of their online affiliates. To see a list of their stores and products, click on the following link: Vanity.

Qualifying is easy. All you have to do is comment of any one of this month's posts (excluding this one) or become a follower on this page, Facebook, or Twitter. A winner will be randomly chosen on Monday 20th at 5 pm. (Only US and Canadian addresses please.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Low Fat Vanilla Pudding with Fresh Blueberries

If I had to chose, I would say that blueberries are my favorite of the berries. They are the perfect fruit for snaking: small enough to eat by the handfuls, sweet and nutritious. Perfect for watching a movie. Instead of popcorn, I would sometimes have a large bowl of blueberries. And at eighty calories and four grams of fiber per cup, it's not a bad idea.

Beside their anti-oxidant properties and sweet-subtle flavor, blueberries are quite easy to cook with. Especially when used in desserts. Because they are so flavorful and visually pleasing, they take center stage in pies, pastries, muffins. Here, I glazed them with liquid jam and ate them by the spoonfuls on vanilla pudding.

Low Fat Vanilla Pudding with Fresh Blueberries
Serves 3 to 4

1 cup low fat milk
1 packet unflavored gelatin
2 - 3 tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz fat free or low fat cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup fresh blueberries
jam or honey

1. Scald milk in microwave on high for two minutes, just as tiny bubbles form . Remove and transfer to larger bowl, if necessary, and whisk slowly while adding the gelatin. Transfer to blender, add honey, cream cheese, and vanilla extract. Puree until smooth. Pour into serving dish ( or individual servings glasses) and chill until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
2. In a saucepan on medium heat, melt jam or honey to a syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat, add berries and toss to coat, being careful not to mash the berries. Spoon glazed berries over chilled pudding and serve.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Two Weeks in New Zealand

Onereo Beach on Waikehe Island, one of New Zealand's best.

Every vacation, no matter how close or how far from home, raises the questions of what sights to see and what activities to do. (And which ones to skip.) Needless to say, my recent trip to New Zealand required much planning. We had only two seeks to explore a country the size of England but with four climate systems, both Polynesian and European histories, and dynamic natural landscapes.

Our flight landed in Auckland at 5:30 am. Thankfully, our hotel allowed early check-in. After a 12 hour flight, all I wanted to do was lay down! But there wasn’t going to be too much of that because we had a whole new time zone to get adjusted to. So, off we went on a self-guided tour of the city, with the help of four maps (just in case one wasn’t enough.) Walking along Hobson Street, we ended up at Viaduct Basin. Built in 2000 for the America’s Cup Regatta, the area is still thriving with restaurants, apartments, shopping and, even though this was not boating season, just enough yachts to add that picture postcard view. This area is a great place to stroll, take photos, or just sit and enjoy the sun, and let the fact that we were finally in New Zealand sink in! (A long time dream of ours.) Before we knew it, it was almost noon and we were getting hungry. We soon came to realize that this is not a bad place to be hungry because there was literally restaurant after restaurant for a good couple blocks. All I knew was that I wanted fresh seafood (must have been all that ocean breeze.) Fresh seafood was what I got at Waterfront Cafe. We ordered mussels in white wine, a calamari salad, and the best tasting oysters I have ever had in my life! Period. Hands down. No contest. Fresh, crisp, clean, euphoric!

The rolling hills of Stonybridge Vineyard on Waiheke.

The following day, we did more self-guided exploration, visiting the Auckland Museum and Sky Tower. But on day three, we planned to explore one of the smaller islands that are also considered part of the city. Auckland has an impressive ferry system with some ferry companies extending their service to include tours of the various islands. We chose Fullers Ferry company and its full-day tour of Waiheke’s vineyards. From Stonybridge to Wild on Waiheke to Mudbrick, the views were simply breathtaking! I have never been to Italy or the Mediterranean but the vineyards here reminded me of photos I’ve seen of such places. Rolling hills. Varying shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, green. An afternoon sun that turned the ocean into a sea of glass. Glistening. And might I add, very romantic. There’s no doubt about it: Waiheke is stunning.

Wine-tasting in Waiheke.

Branches of olives on the Rangihou Estate.

Also part of the tour was a stop at Rangihou Olive Estate. Just like the wine growing areas of Europe and the Mediterranean, Waiheke is ideal for olives. Rangihou grows different types of olives and therefore produces different flavors of oil. However, one thing was consistent: delicious olive oil in every bottle. We sampled five of their productions, including a batch that was being pressed as we pulled up to the compound! Talk about fresh! Depending on the type of olive used, the qualities of its flavor profile really stand out the fresher it is. And in case you were wondering how to determine freshness: there should be a date on the bottle; the key is to purchase within two years of this, the production, date. And always make sure to buy dark bottles and store in a cool dry place since light denatures the good fatty acids in the oil turning it rancid.

On day four, there was something foul in the air. Literally. We were in Rotorua and that smell was sulphur, due to Rotorua’s location on geothermically active earth. But nothing about this noxious odor is indicative of what Rotorua had to offer. After three days of Auckland’s vivacity, we were now in the center of the north island for the next three days. The goal: to experience some of the country’s most popular and beautiful natural wonders and it’s proud Maori culture.

The view of Lake Rotorua from our room at the Koura Lodge!

The following day after breakfast - wonderfully prepared by our hosts Tom and Louise of Koura Lodge I must add - we set out for the sites along Terawera Road, stopping first at the Blue and Green lakes. Next was the Buried Village. This was an area of Maori activity and high tourist traffic (by the standards of that era) during the late nineteenth century, thanks to the areas Pink and White Terraces - pools of hot water enclosed by step-like formations from silica deposits from two geysers. As the name suggests the buried village is... well... buried. Mt Terawera erupted on June 10, 1886 killing 150 people and destroying the terraces, along with the nearby village. The landscape and demographics of the region were also forever changed for, as our guide noted, so popular were the terraces that, had they still been around, the main tourist hub for the region would have been this village and not Rotorua. Even though the terraces no longer exist, a walk through the area was well worth it. And don’t miss the twenty minute trail to the impressive Wairere Falls.

Standing at the Impressive Wairere Falls.

By the second day in Rotorua, we realized that three days were not enough to explore this region. Even so ,we were able to visit Wia-O-Tapu, an excellent example of geothermal activity, and an excellent opportunity to get close to what’s beneath the Earth’s surface. Maybe even too close. Well marked paths took us around sulphur lakes, bubbling mud pools, sunken craters. Another must do is a Hangi - traditional Maori meal- and a Maori concert. deciding which concert to choose was a tough choice because they were all so highly rated. In the end, we choose the Mitai because of their convenient shuttle service: a delightful perk, especially for my husband, since he did all of the driving - driving on the left side of the road took much getting used to!

On the Boardwalk in Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland.

We drove from Rotorua to Wellington on day seven, a drive that was necessary but grueling. It took us about six hours to get there and another hour or so to get lost before we found the hotel (next time, we are definitely getting GPS world edition.) And it rained all of the two days that we were there. While we didn’t get to see much of the city, we had the chance to visit Te Papa - the immense new museum that’s highly interactive, and dedicated to New Zealand’s dynamic cultural and natural history. Taking one of the complimentary tours was a great way to see the main exhibits in one day.

When you think of New Zealand, what comes to mind? Mussels and wine, no? This was to be the next segment of the trip. The following day, we took the Interislander ferry to the Malborough Sounds. If New Zealand is the mussel capital of the world, then Malborough Sounds is the mussel capital of New Zealand. As the ferry approached the Picton Harbor, it was clear that we left the gloom of Wellington behind as we were greeted by an impressive full double rainbow. Picton is the hub for exploring the wine growing areas of the Sounds and a good place to see how mussels are farmed. Luckily we were able to do both in one day, on one tour, and luckily still, we arrived in the off-season so we were the only ones on the tour.

Picturesque Picton.

Our driver and tour guide was Aussie, and, as his name suggests, he is from Australia. He came over for a month’s vacation - it’s been seven years since. He explained that once his relatives visited for him here first time, they too were mesmerized. Now, his parents and sister call Malborough their home. I couldn’t help feel a tinge of jealousy as we left Picton and proceeded to Blenheim. Vineyards and mountains were the only structures that interrupted each other. Sheep and cattle were grazing. It was still early and cool enough in the morning that there was also a slight mist in the valleys. Everything about this area spoke of a harmony between nature and humanity. Yes, given the opportunity and timing, I too would move here.

Our first stop was Saint Clair winery (on vacation, it’s never to early for wine tasting ) to taste for ourselves why Malborough wines are some of the best in the world. The advantage of being the only people on the tour (and booking the Icon’s package) was that we had the option of visiting an additional attraction of our choice. Being more of a chocaholic than I am, my husband requested that we make a quick stop at Makana Chocolate factory. The fact that chocolate is not intrinsically New Zealand means nothing to him and the thousands of visitors to stop at Makana each year. Just goes to show how universal the taste for chocolate is and how good it is here.

We had lunch at the Slip Inn (the braised lamb here was very good) in Havelock, superbly located on the marina from which our boat for the mussel part of the tour would depart. And what a tour it would be! It turned out that this was one of my most memorable events of the entire trip, for both positive and negative reasons. Its easy to see way many Kiwis have their summer homes here. This area was created when the northern tip of south island sub-ducted under the pacific continental plate, resulting in numerous hilly peninsulas and islands of all shades of green, that protect the water in most of these sea valleys from the tumultuous cook strait. The result: miles of coastline for beach frolicking, for romantic walks, for the ultimate seclusion. And the prefect ocean conditions for growing mussels.

The one negative aspect of the tour started out as a challenge: to eat a raw mussel. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy fresh oysters but the thought of eating raw mussels seemed abnormal.

“People have them raw all the time! Here, tell ya what, we’ll cut it in half so you don’t have to eat the whole thing.” That was Aussie.

“Do you have some sort of hot sauce?” my ever-so-caring husband chimed in. “Maybe the hot sauce will make it easier for her,” speaking about me in the third person, and not looking me in the eye. He had already tried the raw version, convinced me that I had to try it because it was better than oysters, and now, seemed to be secretly laughing at my momentary digust.

Eyes closed, head tilted back forty five degree angle, mouth opened, in went raw tabasco-drenched mussel. Mouth closed. Chewing. Chewing. Not too bad. Somewhat sweet. Wait. What’s that? Bitter! Oh god! Chew some more. Even worse! To spit out or not to spit out? That’s not lady-like. Just swallow! Get it over with! Will never do that again!

“That was awful!!”

“Really? Maybe you just had a bad one. Try another.” Assuie again, only half-joking.

Raw mussel.

The first, and last time, I ever ate a raw mussel!

Delicious steamed mussels (the way they should be prepared) on the Greenshell Mussel tour in the Malborough Sounds.

That's a jelly fish I'm holding, a non-poisonous species.

Thus ended our tour of Malborough region: with me vowing to never eat another mussel (I seriously get a little nauseous at the thought of it now ) but absolutely thrilled and feeling so fortunate to have spent even two short days is such natural beauty. It seemed that every turn lead to a view that was more breathtaking than the last. More unbelievable but there it was, right in front of me.

The following day, we took the TranzCoastal to Christchurch. This train journey in itself can be considered a sight. Snaking along the eastern coast of the south island, we were treated to some impressive views of the Pacific ocean on one side and the Souther Alps on the other. At times it seemed that the tracks were literally on the beach, close enough for a good glimpse of the resident seal colony in Kaikoura.

When we arrived in Christchurch, it was raining and it rained incessantly for the only two full days we were to spend there. But that didn’t stop us from following through with our plan to visit a working sheep farm. Cantebury Leisure Tours took us thirty minutes outside of the city to a medium sized farm where we got to try our hands at sheep shearing. It’s amazing how much wool a sheep can grow in a matter of three to four months. Those adorable shaggy little creatures. New Zealand still produces most of the world’s wool supply and lanolin. Lanolin? where have I heard that word before? Ah yes, ten to fifteen years ago when moisturizers where still made of natural ingredients, lanolin was one of those emollients.

On tour of a working sheep farm.

Although newly sheared, these sheep are still so cuddly!

Finally on the last day of our trip when, it stopped raining and we did the one thing that was quintessentially Christchurch: punting on the Avon. The Avon is a spring fed river that flows through the city and out into the pacific ocean. While punting may look similar to a gondola ride, they differ in shape of the vessel, and method of propulsion: a gondola is steered with an oar while a punter uses a long pole to push his punt along the water.

Punting on the Avon river in Christchurch.

As we flew from Christchurch to Auckland later that day - to catch our connection back to the US - the the snow -apped peaks of the southern range were clearly visible through the airplane window; majestic, and beckoning as if to say, “You didn’t see me this time but I’ll be waiting.” Two weeks were surely not enough time to thoroughly explore this great country but enough to appreciate that New Zealand is in a league of its own. The youngest country in the world but by no means a follower. To experience New Zealand is to experience the myths of a an ancient people, the resilience of the new generations and their collective passion and reverence to the land and the way of life it has afforded them.