Sweet Potato Goodness

416expat and I are staying in London for the next few months, so there will be a paucity of travel photos.  Sad face!  We’ve been pretty spoiled with travel opportunities and we are so thankful for each one.  One of the upsides of sticking around London has been the chance to spend more time with our community of friends here.  Last weekend we celebrated the birthdays of two lovely friends.  Rosie shared this amazing recipe with me and after devouring the result at her birthday party, I knew I wanted to share it.  It’s fast, easy and delicious!

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Note I didn't peel or cut into chunks my sweet potatoes - they didn't cook 100% evenly. Don't be like me. At least cut them into chunks.

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Check out those red hot spicy peppers. Also, note that it was actually sunny in London!!

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mmm feta - might have over done it on the feta, but it was delicious and I stand by my decision to use the entire package

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oh Waitrose you are the Loblaws of London...only dare I say it? Better?

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I told you it wasn't the prettiest dish, but it's so tasty!! My lack of pretty serving dishes probably doesn't help. Let's blame it on the serving dish.

Rosie’s Sweet Potato Salad – shared by Rosie B

2 sweet potatoes
olive oil
feta – 1 pkg
one red hot pepper
coriander
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 375.  Peel and cut up the sweet potatoes into large 2″ chunks.  Toss with olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper.  Spread evenly on a baking sheet.  Bake for ~25 minutes or until soft and smooshy.

While the sweet potato is cooking, remove the seeds from a red pepper (hot one) and chop the pepper finely.  Coarsely chop some coriander and feta.

When the sweet potato is cooked, dump it into a serving bowl.  Add the coriander, feta, and red pepper.  Mix it all together and serve.

It isn’t the fanciest looking dish, but it tastes delicious!  The feta really brightens the flavour of the sweet potato and keeps it from being too sweet.  The red pepper adds some amazing heat.

Bologna & Near Venice

After spending a day in beautiful (but hyper-touristy) Venice, we took the expert advice of our hotel’s concierge, hired a car, and took off to a “real” Italian city: Bologna.  Bologna is Italy’s 7th largest city and sits at a gateway between the picturesque (but poor) South, and the industrialized North.  It’s also known for its cuisine, breaddy pastas and of course the sauce Bolognese.

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We hired a Fiat Panda for the day at a cost of GBP22 (about C$35).  It is one of my favorite rental cars so far, with a crisp shifter and frugal petrol engine.  The trip to Bologna is 160km, and including our detours we ended up driving about 450km in the day.  While petrol is expensive, the Panda only used EUR30 in gas for the whole trip.

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We saw these hills from the autostrada, and stopped to take a look.

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Bologna was a bit gritty.

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Now-dry canals in the city centre

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Bologna is home to the world’s 3rd oldest university, and Europe’s second largest preserved city centre.  Much of the city’s sidewalks were covered arcades, providing shelter from the elements.  During our visit in early March the temperature was about 16c.

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Covered sidewalk arcade, to the left.

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One of Bologna’s symbols is this the Two Towers, actually a cluster of medieval towers scattered throughout the old part of the city.  The big one is twice as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And, for EUR3, you can climb it:

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In the main town square, we could hear music from a funeral service for an Italian musician (we found out later, Lucio Dalla).  You can see the square is packed with thousands of people wearing black.

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All in all, 498 stairs!

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On the way back, we checked in at the small city of Ravenna on the Adriatic coast, just south of Venice

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Venice

Well, British Airways had a seat sale and we took the plunge – a long weekend in Venice, while staying at the Hilton, just like a rock stars!  The reason it was all possible?  No one visits Venice in the wintertime, so we had the city to ourselves.  The hotel we stayed at, the Hilton Garden Inn, was fantastic: brand new rooms, helpful concierge, and a 7 minute shuttle onto the island. At EUR75 a night in a city known for high room rates, this was one of the best hotel values I’ve had in Europe.

Venice is in Northern Italy on the Adriatic Sea.  Hollywood’s Italy is usually the south – sun drenched beaches, dusty sand, olive trees.  Northern Italy is a bit different; while it’s hot in the summer winters can be proper cold.  Once home to a population of 200,000, tourists are slowly taking the island over; only 60,000 permanent residents remain on Venice itself.  We grabbed our Rick Steves Italy book and went nuts:

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The world famous Rialto bridge.

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To combat rising tides, much of the island has been built up around the buildings.  This makes for some low ceilings.

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Tasty pastries by the canal.

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The blue-green water is saltwater from the surrounding lagoon.

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A gondola ride is a pricey proposition – EUR100 by day, and more by night.  The cheap trick is to choose a Traghetto, which goes from one side of the Grand Cana and back.  The 40 yard, 3 minute journey costs just half a Euro!

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The island of Murano,home to Murano glass.

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A Murano glass…glass.

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These little guys were EUR5 each.

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It was easy to capture Venice on our DSLR.  Point, shoot, everything looked fantastic.

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Super ornate column outside the Doge’s (Duke’s) Palace.

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The famous Bridge of Signs, leading from the courthouse (left) into the prison (right)

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Plaza San Marco – St Mark’s Square.  Trading houses on the left, and the Basilica straight ahead.

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Jamie’s Recipe Yearbook and an Escape to Venice

Mr416expat and I had the chance to escape to Venice last weekend.  I’m not going to lie, it was an amazing opportunity.  Mr416expat found a last minute deal on the British Airways website and suddenly we were off for 3 nights in Venice.  This was our first trip to Italy and the country absolutely blew me away.  I’ll let Mr416expat post the pictures from the trip – I know he’s dying to get on the laptop to do some final edits!  I’ll give you a hint though – there are a lot of boats.

While killing time at Gatwick Airport, I stumbled upon the 2011-2012 version of Jamie’s Recipe Yearbook.  I purchased last years version and really enjoyed it as a mini recipe book.

The flight to Venice (1hour and 40 minutes) offered me a chance to really sink my teeth into the recipes.  On arriving back in London I was feeling particularly inspired to cook.  Something about eating parma ham in tiny bread rolls while drinking a delicious glass of 1.50 euro wine reminded me all about why I love cooking.  So here it goes, the first recipe I’ve cooked out of the 2011-2012 Recipe Yearbook with my own Italian twist:

Chicken - it always starts with chicken - note: I got 8 chicken breasts for 9GBP - that's pretty good!

Bash the chicken - in our rather appliance/kitchen gadget limited space that means use a frying pan but I think that's ok

Chicken layered with sage leaves and pancetta has entered the fry pan

dance tiny cherry tomatoes, dance!

dinner - Chicken Saltimbocca served with fresh salad greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Chicken Saltimbocca – Adapted from Jamie’s Recipe Yearbook 2011-2012

2 chicken breasts
a handful of sage leaves
4 slices of pancetta
1 good glug of olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

Place a long piece of parchment paper on the counter.  Place the chicken breasts on the parchment paper and fold the paper over so that the chicken is sandwiched between the parchment paper.  Using a meat hammer (or a frying pan) smash the chicken until it is of an even thickness (1-2cm).  Laying the sage leaves on top of the chicken, followed by the slices of pancetta.  Season with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium to medium-high heat.  When the butter and oil have combined and your pan is hot, add the chicken (sage and pancetta facing up).  Cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, then flip the chicken (with sage and pancetta over).  At this point add the cherry tomatoes, shaking the pan so the tomatoes fall in between the chicken.  The cherry tomatoes will burst and the juices will create a flavourful sauce.  Cook until the chicken is done (roughly 2-3 minutes after your flipped it).

Serve with salad greens drizzled with balsamic vinegar.