Sunday, October 11, 2009

Venice: Hotel on the pesce!

In order to break up the several food posts ahead, I thought I'd introduce our Venice hotel to you! I showed pictures of all of the other hotels we had booked, but due to last minute trip stuff, I never got around to showing pictures of the Venice hotel. So now you get the actual pictures that I took!

We stayed at Al Doge Beato, which is located on the actual island of Venice. After watching the Rick Steves Venice episode, we quickly decided that there was no way we'd be staying on the mainland. With that in mind, we started searching for hotels that fit our budget.

This was actually the first hotel we booked. I don't remember how we found it, or how we decided on it so quickly. Ok, that's kind of a lie....I know we found it on trip advisor. The ratings were good, the rooms looked spacious (which seemed uncommon for Europe), and there was a small canal near by.

Besides a little trouble we had checking in and some issues with something left behind (more about these in a later post), we had a great stay here! I think I'd give it 4/5 stars (4 out of 5, not to be confused with 4/5 of a star) for a European hotel! We went not expecting much, but we were pleasantly surprised =)

So now some pictures of our Venetian hotel:

The hairdryer! I just thought it was weird-looking...

View from our balcony, to the left (at night there are tables set out for the restaurant below). Oh, and our canal view

View from our balcony, to the right

Another view of our room....taken from the bathroom

And that is it! Our Venice hotel!! I think we got a pretty good idea of what to expect after looking at Trip Advisor. Oh, and I definitely plan on writing a review for every place we stayed, and everywhere we ate. The reviews we read and pictures we saw while we were booking were extremely helpful! So I urge you to do the same =)

Ok, get ready for a few more food posts!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Venice: The Food! (Part 1)

We had AMAZING food while in Europe, so of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share every meal we ate!!! Before we got there, I was planning on eating tons of seafood and pasta, and drinking lots of wine, and that's exactly what we did! Be prepared...this is kind of a long post, so feel free to just look at the pictures! (Oh, and I've decided to split the Venice food up into two posts....too much for one!)

Day 1: We arrived in Venice around 8pm. We wandered around, checked into our hotel, changed clothes, and went out to find something to eat! We found ourselves at the Grand Canal, by the Scalzi Bridge. There were several restaurants in the area, and they all looked really good! We decided to pay a little more and eat at one of the restaurants on the Grand Canal. We ended up choosing Trattoria Povoledo. I was in the mood for pasta, so I ordered the spahgetti ai frutti di mare....and it was sooooo good. It tasted super fresh, and was just amazing. Ryan ordered the proscuitto pizza, which was also super yummy! Of course we ordered a bottle of wine, as well!

Ryan's proscuitto pizza =)

My super fresh, super yummy seafood pasta!

Our first bottle of Italian wine, just chillin'

The gorgeous Canal view from our table!

Day 2: I woke up early (6am) because I was so excited to be in Europe and couldn't wait to see Venice in the daytime! Our hotel serves breakfast in the room, but we left just as the hotel staff was getting there, so we didn't get to take advantage. We found a random little cafe and had a croissant and peach juice...over priced and not that good (definitely the worst "meal" in Venice, but whatever!). We had plans to go to Burano that day, but we were getting kind of hungry around 11am, and decided to stop and get out first lunch. Ryan got a sandwich with meat and cheese (not sure exactly what) and I got a flat sandwichy thing that they heated up! Mine was really good! It had cheese, veggies and olives, yum!

Our 1st lunch! I didn't take a picture of breakfast...but I'm sure you can imagine a croissant =)
After getting to Burano and exploring a bit, we found a place that served pizza (I was really craving pizza). Since we had already eaten our first lunch, we decided to split mussels with lemon and a pizza ai frutti di mare. The mussels were really really good! The pizza was also really good, but a little different than I expected, but it tasted really yummy! I think if I had to choose, I like Ryan's pizza from the night before better, but honestly, they were both so good! Oh, and we washed down our lunch with a mezzo litro (500 mL) of prosecco =)

Mussels with good! And if you look closely, you can see the Prosecco in the upper right-hand corner

Seafood pizza!

We had big plans that night. We had planned to go to the Skyline Bar, go on a gondola ride, and eat at a restaurant that had awesome reviews on Trip Advisor. Well...nothing worked out as planned. The Skyline Bar and gondola ride were a no-go, but we still went on a mission to find the restaurant. It was very hidden, and when we finally found it is was around 10pm. Well, I looked at the menu, which was pretty limited, and decided that nothing looked that good. So, we were super lucky and ended up finding a great place to eat. THE FOOD WAS AMAZING! The place was called Osteria Alle Testiere, and they usually only have one sitting, but they were super nice and let us eat, even though it was an hour after they had seated people. (side note: I just looked it up on Trip Advisor so I could link you all, and realized that's it's the #3 ranked restaurant in Venice! We win!)

Ok, so I was really craving pasta, but unfortunately, they had already dumped out the pasta water (since they were not expecting anymore dinner guests). They did, however, have a lot of other dishes that looked delish! So, we started off with a mixed seafood appetizer from the Adriatic Sea, which was seriously, sooooo good. Probably the best seafood we had the whole trip. For dinner, I ordered prawns with corriander, ginger, and lime sauce and Ryan ordered sea bream fillets with fine herbs and citrus sauce. And of course we ordered a white wine =)

Our bread sticks, cracker thing and roll! Oh, and we got refills!

Amazing appetizer! Octopus in the middle, and then starting at 6 o'clock and going clockwise: lobster, cuttlefish, shrimp, spider crab, anchovies, baby calamari, and a little crostini (?) with a mousse-like substance made from cod, milk, vegetable oil, garlic, and herbs. My mouth is watering....

Ryan and his dish!

My wonderful prawns that came with polenta! It was delicious!

So, there you have it! The food we ate the first two days in Venice (well most of it....). Yum! I can't wait to post about the rest =) I hope none of you are sick of hearing about slash looking at good food!

Friday, October 2, 2009

I'm Back!!!!

We got back from our wonderful European vacation about two and a half weeks ago. I had tons of fun at each place, and can't wait to start blogging about some of the details! I honestly don't even know where to begin because everything was so amazing! Oh, and if you're hoping for a proposal story, it won't happen here! I've started a wedding blog!!!! Ok, so here are a couple of pictures from each place we visited. Enjoy!

We had so much fun just walking around and getting lost in Venice. We found tons of beautiful little canals and squares! And of course, we had AMAZING food, but I'll get to that in a later post! The first picture below is of me above one of the many small canals that run through the city. The second picture is me on the Rialto Bridge, over the Grand Canal.

Cinque Terre:
We first saw the beautiful view of Cinque Terre from the train! One second we were in a dark tunnel, and then all of a sudden we had a view of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea! The views, food, and atmosphere of Cinque Terre were all seriously awesome! The first picure is me with a view of Manarola (the second of the five towns). The second picture is at sunset at a bar we went to a few times....


Like Cinque Terre, the water was sooo clear and so pretty! The fist picture shows the gorgeous water, and you can see Ryan in the background! I also loved walking around the pedestrian areas. And it all seemed so very French! The second picture shows an area right by our hotel.


It was very exciting when we came out of the metro stop and got our first glimpse of Paris! The first picture shows me right inside the entrance of the Louvre! My favorite thing about Paris was...the Eiffel Tower!! I loved it! I loved it during the day and at night! We could almost see it from our apartment, but not quite. The second picture is us right in front of it!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cinque Terre!

Yay! I'm super excited to stay in Cinque should be a lot different than the other places we're staying....less modern. It will be nice to get away and relax, so I can't wait!

Anyway, there weren't too many different "hotels" in Cinque Terre, especially when we were able to narrow it down to one town in particular: Vernazza. It's the one Rick Steves recommends, so obvi we're staying there! After looking through the reviews on trip advisor, we ended up choosing one hotel, and requested a sea view room (you had to email or fax them to make reservations....). We were super disappointed to find out that it was no longer available, but they did have a non sea view room, with a private bathroom, for 20 euros less. So, this became our back up plan.

I kind of want to show pictures of the other hotels we looked at, and put in a request for, but that might have to wait for another post. To make a long story short, none of the other hotels we liked had rooms available, so we ended up back at the first place! At first I was kind of sad, but we did like it best in the first place, so there must be something good about it. And there is!

I'll show you pictures, all from trip advisor.

This will probably end up being our view....

This is what our view could have been!

Here's a picture of one of the nicer-looking rooms

And here's a picture of the connected restaurant!

I am definitely very excited to try out the restaurant that is part of the hotel: Gianni Franzi. The pesto and seafood and wine are all going to be so good (I'll be sure to take pictures, and post them when I get make you all jealous!). Anyway, while the nearby restaurant is exciting, my favorite part about the hotel has got to be the terrace, that everyone staying there has access to:

See the little part sticking out from the rock?

And here's a close-up view! The water is beautiful!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recipe #11: Pesto Pasta (Part I)

So, I actually made this dish a while ago...probably sometime in April or May. I had been craving pesto for a while, and had just read an article about how it originated in Cinque Terre! Perf! I looked online and found a recipe for pesto by Lisa's favorite, Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa). And honestly, it was the best pesto ever!

I had only made pesto once before, and while it was yummy, I found it to be a bit bitter. So, here's the recipe we used. The recipe is actually for a pesto pasta salad (more on this later), so the pesto recipe below is going to include a few other ingredients that were added (and made it really really yummy!).

Pesto ingredients:
-1/4 cup walnuts
-1/4 cup pine nuts
-9 garlic cloves, chopped
-5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
-1 tsp kosher salt
-1 tsp black pepper
-1 1/2 cups good olive oil (she always says good olive oil in her show)
-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
-1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
-1 1/4 cup good mayonnaise

In food processor, blend walnuts, pine nuts and garlic for 15 seconds. Add basil leaves, salt,
and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

Here it is before adding the "extra" ingredients

(using 1 1/2 cups of pesto) Puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayo and puree. And that's it!

YUM! Nice and creamy and not at all bitter!

I actually found this recipe because I was looking for a pasta dish with pesto and peas, and came across this, and it had awesome reviews. So, using her recipe as a guideline, we made a hot pasta (hers was for room temperature/cold), and it turned out super yummy!

I don't remember exactly what we did with this recipe, but I do know two things for sure: I definitely used extra Parmesan, and I did not use as much mayonnaise as the recipe calls for. Oh, and I used extra garlic, because I always do. Anyway, it turned out really well, and I can't wait to make the pesto again!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Europe Hotels part deux: Nice!

We actually had kind of a tough time with this hotel, at first. I knew that I wanted to be near the water, but most of the hotels near the water were far too expensive. Ryan wanted to be by a certain street that looked cool....haha, I don't remember what it was called, but it was not super close to the water.

We used trip advisor to look through the hotels in the area. Pretty much, we started at the top rated hotel, and went through all of the ones that were under $200 a night (our flexible budget). From there, we read some of the reviews, looked through all of the pictures, and of course, "mapped it" to see how close it was to the water!

After searching for a whlie, we were able to come up with a list of hotels that were within our price range, and were in an OK location. Then, and I really don't remember how, Ryan found a deal through Orbitz for the Mercure Nice Promenade des Anglais. The deal was perfectly in our price range, and we were even able to splurge for a sea view!!

I'm super excited for this hotel (as you'll see, the "hotels" we're staying at in Italy are not exactly....well, this nice - but don't get me wrong, I also can't wait for those!)! Check out some of these pictures (all taken from Trip Advisor - you can read the reviews here).

The hotel recently had a decor upgrade, which is shown in this picture!

Here's one of the streets right by the hotel

And below you see a map of the area we're staying in. On trip advisor, they have a little marker to show where the hotel is, but for some reason that didn't save on here! So, if you take a look at the words "Promenade des Anglais," our hotel is right where the "e" in "des" is. Sweet!

So, take a look at a couple of view shots from guests who have stayed at the hotel:

Beautiful! Unfortunately we're only staying in Nice for two nights, and will really only be there for one day (getting there late afternoon one day and leaving SUPER early the day we leave). But, we're hoping to make the most of it! And, if we get around to planning some of our activities before we actually get there, I'll be sure to write about them!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cabbage Soup Diet: Day Zero

I've been planning on losing some weight before my Europe trip, and well, I leave in 15 days and haven't exactly been losing weight. So I've decided it's time for the Cabbage Soup Diet (CSD) - love up to 10 pounds in 7 days! Read about it here.

I've done the CSD twice-ish before....once was successful, and once I stopped after 2 days (but I blame Ryan for that....somehow he convinced me that tator tots were an okay substitute for the baked potato. It went downhill from there).

The successful attempt was the first time I went on the CDS. I actually lost 10 pounds in the week I was on it, but it definitely wasn't easy. I will give a brief overview of what the plan looks like (from memory, check the link above for a more accurate schedule).

Day 1- eat the soup and any fruit except for bananas. Drink water and unsweetened tea
Day 2- eat the soup and any vegetables you want, but try to stay away from corn, peas, and beans. Same drinks. Oh, and you can eat a baked potato for dinner, but I didn't do this before, and probably won't this time either.
Day 3- eat the soup and fruits (no bananas) and veggies (avoid peas, corn, beans). Same drinks.
Day 4- eat the soup, bananas and skim milk. THIS IS THE WORST DAY
Day 5- eat the soup, beef (real food!), and tomatoes. Drink lots of water this day
Day 6- eat the soup and beef (as much as you can eat!! They say you can eat 2 or 3 steaks if you want)
Day 7- eat the soup, vegetables, and brown rice. Same drinks as before.

And that's it! It sounds pretty easy...and it's only 7 days. But it is definitely a HARD 7 days, trust me. The soup is okay at first. But you start to get sick of it pretty quickly, and you start to notice that you're not really eating anything that's going to give you energy. I remember being super worn out and grumpy when I did this diet in the past. Oh, and quick confession...on the 6th day I actually ate some bread. I bought a mini loaf thing from safeway, and ate it, and felt MUCH better.

Anyway, Day Zero was all about getting prepared for the next 7 days. First of all, I had to make the soup. Below is the recipe I used, which is actually from Weight Watchers. And I should mention that I don't actually have the recipe in front of me, so this is from memory. If there are any major problems, I'll probably come back and edit it. The CSD site has a recipe, but I didn't think it was as good as this one.

Cabbage Soup (4 - 1 cup servings)
-1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
-2 garlic cloves
-1/2 cup yellow onion
-1/2 cup carrots
-1/2 cup zucchini
-1 tsp oregano (dried)
-1 tsp basil (dried)
-1/4 tsp salt
-3 cups broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
-1 tsp tomato paste

First you heat up the onions, garlic, and carrots in cooking spray on low heat for about 5 minutes. I did it for much longer (and waited to put the garlic in) because I wanted to make sure the onions were not too raw. Then add in the cabbage, oregano, basil, salt, tomato paste and broth. Bring to boil and then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then, throw in the zucchini and heat for another 3-4 minutes.

Not too bad! I ended up tripling-ish the recipe, but used more or less of certain ingredients. Anyway, I'll keep you all updated with short recaps of each day (mostly to remind myself how it was, should I ever attempt this again!).

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Got the Key...

Doesn't the key look awsome?!

To my Parisian apartment! Okay, it's not my Parisian apartment, but it is where me and Ryan are going to stay for 3 nights in Paris! We found a US based company, Vacation in Paris, that offers many different apartments all around the city. We decided we wanted to stay in the Rue Cler area, so we began our search there! (district 7).

And we were hoping to have tons of options to choose from. BUT, most of them were actually booked! We went through all of the studio apartments and one bedroom apartments in district 7, and made a list of places we wanted to stay. A few factors went into this. First of all, it had to be semi-reasonably priced. There were a few luxury properties that were just WAY out of our price range. Secondly, it had to be one that had a minimum stay of 3 nights. Of course, because we are only staying 3 nights, we had to pay an extra cleaning fee. Also, we wanted to like the look of the apartment (at least a little!).

So, with my list of maybe about 10 apartments, I called Vacation in Paris. I was disappointed to find that there were so few apartments available for the days we wanted, but there was one available that matched one of the apartments on our list. So we booked it!! Here are the pictures straight from the Vacation in Paris website. I'll be sure to post real pictures when we get back!

Living room/dining room

Taken from the couch (seen in the picture above this one). You can see the kitchen in the background...

Close up of the kitchen



I am glad that we ended up with a one bedroom place instead of a studio, although either would have been fine. I'm just really glad that this is almost our view:

It's not taken from our hotel, but it is taken just down the street (or so they say). I'm so excited!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking at Whole Foods

So, yesterday (false) a few days ago (false) a few weeks ago (false) 4 months ago (ding ding ding, yep, it's been a looong time since I started this post!), my work team went to Whole Foods to participate in a cooking class! I had no idea Whole Foods even offered this....but they do! Before we got there, it was decided that we would do the "Pacific Rim Fusion" menu, which consists of:

Waterfall Salad

Firecracker Shrimp

Thai Chicken Green Curry

Five Spice Beef Sate

Sesame Rice

Grilled Plantains with Coconut Milk over Ice Cream

Believe it or not, I actually worked on the Five Spice Beef Sate. Obvi not my first choice, but honestly, I didn't really care too much. Anyway, unfortunately I don't have too many pictures of the "during" phase....I thought I would look like a freak in front of my co-workers if I pulled out my camera and started snapping away at the food. Well, by the time everything was almost done, I ended up doing it anyway, because I had to have some pictures!

The recipe I'm going to share with you is the Firecracker Shrimp. It was by far the best thing we had! The beef sate that I made, with the help of others, was tough and not well flavored. I mean, how could it have been? The marinade soaked in for all of 5 minutes, when it should have been AT LEAST over night! And the chicken curry....not much flavor, unfortunately. Oh, and I should mention that I did not try the dessert for two reasons: 1) Lent and 2) plantains (vom). Ok, so here's the recipe for the shrimp:

Firecracker Shrimp
-1/3 cup sliced or whole almonds
-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and halved
-1 bunch cilantro
-6 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
-3 garlic cloves
-2 tsp cumin
-1/8 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup water
-2 lb medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
-1 tbsp olive oil (for the pan)
-1/8 cup lemon juice
-sea salt to taste

Place almonds, jalapenos, cilantro, scallions, garlic, cumin, olive oil, and water in a food processor and blend for 1 minute, until a smooth paste is formed. Marinate the shrimp in the refrigerator in a covered container for at least 1 hour in the paste (this definitely did not happen when we were cooking, and they still tasted super yummy!).

Heat olive oil over moderate heat in a large saute pan. Saute shrimp, stirring continuously for 4 minutes, until pink and opaque. Deglaze plan with the lemon juice, and season with salt.

The recipe is taken straight from the pamphlet we got from Whole Foods. Since I didn't actually make this dish myself, I can't offer any insightful hints. But the shrimp was definitely the favorite!

Ok, so clearly I haven't been blogging much in the past few months, but I'm going to try to pick it back up because I have a few more yummy recipes to share, a few scrapbooking projects, and, of course, plenty of info on my upcoming Europe trip (21 days until I leave)!!