Friday, August 14, 2009

Merguez sausages - a treat to die for

Norwegians love sausages, but in my mind our own varieties may be uninteresting, as the seasoning is unadventurous, and there is simply nothing to chew on. If you order a "banger" in the UK, or a würst in Germany, you end up with something looking and tasting more like the real thing.

Norwegian sausages are often based on very finely ground sausage meat. Luckily our producers increasingly seem to get the message, as there are no limits to new and interestingly flavored sausages made from different ingredients on the market. Not only beef and pork, but turkey, chicken, and even salmon (ouch!) have been introduced as ingredients. They do, however, not offer the carnivorous adventurer a decent rustic sausage with a real bite to it. I however have found that one favorite introduced by our immigrant population - the merguez, offers me full satisfaction.

The merguez are made from lamb and originates from Northern Africa where it is widely available in countries like Tunis, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. It has become more and more available throughout Europe, first in countries with a large North African population as France, and little by little in other European countries through immigration.

Merguez is in Northern Africa often served with couscous.

I enjoyed a traditional merguez served this way at Un Escale à Marrakech in Marseille. See full story here

Merguez looks and tastes like a real sausage. Ground coarsely, and meat and fat are evenly distributed. It is a sausage for grown ups as it is generously seasoned with North African spices like sumac or harissa. They may contain cayenne pepper as well, leaving you refreshed and rather excited as all these endorphins are released to cope with the heat.

I used to buy merguez at my local Iranian butcher, but as it closed for business a year ago, I stopped buying them. My friend Dagfinn told me that the merguez now are sold at Vatan import, one of the largest Turkish green grocers in Oslo. He brought a packet to my summer home, and as I bit into one, I suddenly remembered how good they were.

These sausages are not precooked, thus being not very good to put on the barbie. He fried them in a little oil in my iron pan, and served them piping hot with a little salad, tzatziki, and bread. I have even substituted them to bacon in an interesting merguez and egg breakfast - a great idea.

What I know now, is that I will most certainly buy my merguez again as a spicy culinary addition to my cuisine. Do try to find one close where you live, and substitute them to your bangers. To those in the UK - does merguez and mash sound like a good idea? I think so!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Italian magic at Riva






















It is not often I use the word magic, when it comes to cooking. This word is left to those extraordinary culinary experiences, when a wizzard has waived his magic wand and created food that blows your mind. One of the few places where the kitchen is occupied by a wizzard is at Riva in Scituate. It may be hard to get to, if you rely on public transportation, but I am lucky to stay in Scituate once a year. I will be begging to return there for another helping in September 2009.

Location: BBB+

Riva is located in a quiet back street in scenic Scituate.

The low score is due to the fact that Scituate is hard to get to, as long as you do not have a car available. Scituate is located 30-40 minutes by car south of Boston. Until recently the only public transportation available were buses driving to and from Boston during peak hours. Now you may take the new suburban rail line to Greenbush, but you are still a 3o minute walk to Scenic Scituate.

Scituate is the home of the oldest building in the US - see story here

Service: BBBBB

The service at Riva is terrific. Nice staff that socialize with you and makes you feel comfortable. We did not have to wait unnecessarily for our food, but again - I would certainly have been willing to wait patiently for the food at Riva.

Interior & Atmosphere: BBBB+

There is a proper dining area at Riva but we decided to enjoy the informality offered in the bar. A traditional dark wooden interior with tall chairs and tables. Comfortable seating with a nice distance to the neighboring tables. As tables go, we were served from scratch - no fancy napkins, cutlery or glasses. They were brought to you when served.

The Food: BBBBB

I always find eating large late evening meals overpowering. I recommended that we (my cousin and I) should choose three appetizers, all priced between $8-10. A terrific idea as we were served three very different, exquisitely prepared dishes.

Appetizer 1: Figs with prosciutto: BBBBB

Deliriously good!! A classic combination. Well presented, and perfectly balanced - the salt ham and the intense light bitter sweetness of figs are absolutely great. Served with salad and balsamic vinaigrette.


Appetizer 2: Mini suppli al telefono or; rice balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, deep fried and served with marinara: BBBBB

It cannot get any better than this - awesome as American would say!! Rice balls, covered in crispy bread crumbs and with a centre made out of melting white mozzarella and with a perfectly balanced tomato sauce on the side.

You just want to break it open and see all the goodness inside - and I did (photo above). I get that sinking hunger again when I take a second look at the photo.


Appetizer 3: Fried Calamari with garlic butter sauce, pepperoncini and sun-dried tomato aioli: BBBBB

Few dishes separates good and bad chefs than calamaris. I have tasted soggy rings over rubbery over cooked meat on one hand, and those cooked to perfection - as at Riva's. Dry, crispy batter, not too greasy, and mouthwateringly tender.

Served with two spicy dipping sauces, I would say that the culinary wizzard produced three close-to-perfect dishes to unbeatable prices.


Wine - Pinot Nero Alto Adige Colterenzio 2007 ($34) : BBBBB-

Riva has an impressive selection of Italian white, red, and sparkling wines ranging from $6-9 per glass, or $24-90 for a bottle.

The Pinot Nero Alta Adige Colterenzio is made from 100% pinot noir. It originates from the South Tyrol area in northern Italy by the city of Bolzano.

The Pinot Nero was a great wine with a flowery character, smooth as silk perfect for a night out.

Rating the Riva experience: BBBB+ (4,44 points)

Very high standard on food (4,86 points), but the moderate score is primarily due to low accessibility, as you will need a car to visit Scituate. The food at Riva is probably one of the best experiences of the last year. I will look forward to another visit.

Address:

Riva Restaurant
116 Front Street,
Scituate, MA 02066
Phone: +1-781-545-5881
E-mail: rivadining@gmail.com
Website: www.rivadining.net

More?

See Riva on Facebook

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Santa Maria Hotel revisited




















We returned to Santa Maria Hotel in Sitges for the second year for an early summer vacation. We had a great stay last year, and our expectations were high. We had booked a room with a mountain view this year to get a more quiet stay. We were not disappointed, as we got a room with a rooftop terrace and a view exceeding our expectations.

Location: BBBBB

Santa Maria Hotel has a superb location. You just have to cross the street in front of the hotel and you are directly on the beach.

The location does, however, have its downsides. Having a superb seaside view means that it is not the most quiet of places. For those of you sensitive to noise may consider to abstain from the beachfront rooms and settle for a room facing the back yard. This is what we did in 2009, and that made all the difference!

Service: BBBBB-

When considering the service - nothing to put your finger on. Professional English speaking staff at your service in the reception. We were particularly taken good care of by the proprietress, originally from Germany, that was working around the clock in order to give us a good experience.

Room: BBBB+

Last year we had a room on the 2nd floor facing the Mediterranean. We had long rows of date palms in front of or small balcony and view to the beach. In spite of this fabulous view, there was one drawback of a beach front room. Sitges is a busy beach resort with a hectic nightlife. In front of the hotel is a busy restaurant serving food until at least 11 PM, and when serving stops there are traffic and people around the clock. We found our beach front room to noisy and asked for a room facing the mountains.

That was an extremely smart thing to do, in fact we felt upgraded, even though we lost the beautiful sea view. We were given one of the upper floor rooms with a roof terrace. The view was beautiful, and we even got a peek of the sea, as we turned our heads and looked over the roof.

We got an average sized room, but with the comfortably sized terrace we had enough space to relax on. The bathroom was generous, both in size and standard.

The room had a neutral traditional decor with pleasant colours. Yellow with light wooden furniture. The bathroom had been upgraded to a very high standard with marble tiles. The bed was very comfortable. We could however have had a little bit more storage as the closet was a little small in size.

We were very relieved to find an air conditioning system that worked and was easy to operate. When adjusting the temperature it was just to press one button and it kept us very cool and comfortable during the day. All rooms had indoor safes easy to operate and where you could leave valuables behind.

The hotel is upgraded to a good standard. A few minor flaws would need maintenance, as small cracks by the ceiling, and some maintenance on the outside wall, but all in all, the standard of our room was very satisfactory.

Thorough cleaning every day at 1 PM, making it a feast returning to your room.

Breakfast: BBBB

Santa Maria Hotel offers their guest a very decent breakfast included in the price. Breakfast is served in the restaurant on the 1st floor, and when hot, it is great to sit outside with the beach as nearest neighbour.

Every morning at breakfast GOOD warm coffee and milk or tea was served immediately by the table. You can also help yourself to apple or orange juice.

The breakfast contains something for any taste. You are served hot scrambled eggs and bacon. I would, however, recommend the hotel to serve it in another way, as the bacon is served more steamed than fried and crispy. Another hot alternative is hot boiled eggs.

For those used to bread and butter with something on, you can choose from sliced cheese, ham, and chorizo / salamis. You are served white rolls and bread, and brown bread, but I would recommend the hotel to get one whole grain alternative to the white bread.

There additional spreads as paté, cream cheese and more. You will also find cereal, fruit and yogurt as healthy option, and for those with a sweet tooth, there are fresh pastry as a treat at the end of the meal.

Facilities: BBBB-

Entertainment: Inhouse bar and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. See review of restaurant here.

Exercise: No facilities available

Well being: Small rest area, extra PC by reception, wireless access in rest area, and air conditioning in good working area in the hotel. Improvements: Access on rooms would be an extra plus.

Hygiene: Very good over-all cleaning of the hotel.

Price: BBBB

We paid 90 EUR per night per room, included breakfast - a good bargain for what you get.

Rating the Santa Maria Hotel Experience: BBBB+ (4, 38 points)

Rating 2008-2009: BBBBB- (4,61 points)


Santa Maria is still a great bargain in Sitges. The lower score compared to the last one, is due to stricter and improved evaluation in the Bargain rating system. This to emphasize that our stay this year was as good as last year. The Enjoy Food & Travel team will certainly return here again.

See earlier review here

Address:

Hotel La Santa Maria
Pg. De la Ribera 52
08870 Sitges
NEW: E-mail: info@lasantamaria.com
NEW: Website: www.lasantamaria.es

You can book your room at the hotel here:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ryanair establish second Norwegian hub at Rygge Airport


















Ryanair is concentrating on taking a larger chunk of the international flight market to and from Norway. Now it is offering Norwegian Air Shuttle competition by extending its activity to another airport. Rygge airport is conveniently close to Oslo, as well as the densely populated Østfold County. Mid July Ryanair announced that they will open new flights to several new destination from their new hub this fall.

Ryanair will open traffic from Rygge to the following destinations:
Be aware that the airline use low price airports that are located far away from main cities. You are therefore well adviced to check location, transportation times and costs etc. from these airports before booking.

Read more on some of these "off-the-beaten-tracks" airports here

Sky is the limit says Ryanair - remove limitations on traffic!


Norwegian authorities has however imposed severe restrictions on how many flights that may operate from Rygge. The Norwegian Ministry of Transportation has imposed a maximum 15000 flight movements from the airport per year. This means that the number of flights by Ryanair may not grow as much as they have done from their main Norwegian hub, Torp airport. That is, unless the Ministry removes its strict limitation.

Erik Hjemsäter, Ryanairs Scandinavian representative, confirms in a statement to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that these restrictions prevent the airline from further expansion in Norway. If limitations are removed, he believes that the sky is the limit for the companys activities from Norwegian airports. Top of the list is a flight to Amsterdam, or rather Eindhoven, but flights to many the 33 other destinations are within reach for travelers from Rygge, Haugesund and Torp.

More stories on Rygge Airport
More Ryanair stories: