Saturday, March 13, 2010

Butter bean stew with merguez sausages (Serves 4)

I suddenly craved for butter beans the other day, and decided to create an improvised stew containing a wide range of ingredients from my kitchen. It had a hint of North Africa, as I used merguez sausages, and harissa and Ras el Hanout, spices from the soukhs of Marrakech.

To make my butter bean stew with merguez sausages, you'll need:

1 large red onion, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 merguez sausages, sliced
300 grams (11 oz) of mushrooms, sliced
25 cl (9 fluid oz) stock
½ glass of tomato sauce
2 cans of butter beans
Ground pepper
Spices (I used Moroccan as Harissa and Ras el Hanout)
2-3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
10 cl (3 fluid oz) single cream 20%
Grated cheese

Fry garlic and onions in the oil, and then add the sliced merguez and mushrooms. Fry for a few minutes.

Add the stock and tomato sauce. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Open the cans of beans, pour out brine and rinse in cold water. Add to the stew. Season according to your taste. I used harissa, a strong North African chili mix, Ras el Hanout, another African seasoning. Check salt level and add more if necessary. Use Thai chili sauce or sugar for additional sweetness.

Allow all ingredients to infuse for 15-25 minutes. Add cream at end of boiling time. Cool down.

Pour stew into a baking dish. Sprinkle grated cheese on top (I used a cheddar / mozzarella mix), and place in a hot oven (200C / 400F) for 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden.

More beans on Enjoy Food & Travel

The Slammer - a real hit!!

Last weekend I bought a bottle of The Slammer, an American Red wine from Big House Wine producer. That was a great hit......

I fell for the Big House The Slammer Syrah 2006 due to its funny label, and from the fact that I love wines made from Syrah grapes.

The Big House Wine Co, it produces a wide range of wines from different grapes. Winemaker Georgetta Dane's goal is to produce wine and wine labels that "will scintillate the most jaded imbiber."

The name is explained on the site as:
Our Soledad Winery in Monterey County, is a mere ankle iron’s toss from the Soledad State Correctional Facility, aka The Clink, The Slammer, The Hoosegow, The Cooler.
The Slammer Syrah 2006 is made from 85% Syrah and 15% Petite Sirah grapes and is recommended to beef, lamb, pork and game.

This is a full bodied Syrah, with a dark ruby, blue-red colour, and rich fruit aromas from dark berries and spices, and a hint of camphor. Though a great wine, it may, in my opinion struggle to match some game meats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bergen has the most expensive hotels in Scandinavia

(Source: Dagbladet, March 2nd 2010) If you want to visit Norway, and need cheap accommodation, avoid Bergen. The capital city of Western Norway is on top of the list of expensive Scandinavian cities if you need a bed for the night. has checked average price of hotel rooms for a number of cities in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Surprisingly three cities along the scenic western coast of Norway are among the most expensive to stay in. Bergen, Ålesund, and Stavanger are ranking over all capital cities on average price for a hotel room.

Bergen A-Z 2007-2009 - see all stories here

Copenhagen the most expensive capital

If you consider visiting one of the four capital cities and are looking for reasonable hotels, Helsinki is definitely the place to go. The average price is around NOK 200 lower (25 EUR) than in Copenhagen in Denmark, followed by Oslo and Stockholm.

That Copenhagen is the most expensive of the Scandinavian cities is absolutely no surprise. I've checked hotels in the Danish capital several times, and found that even a room in a tourist class hotel stretch your bank balance.

Last time I stayed in Copenhagen, I ended up at Hotel Sct. Thomas in the neighbouring borough of Frederiksberg. Priced at DKK 599 a night (€75) it was a rip-off considering the low standard of the hotel.

Copenhagen from A-Z 2007-2009 - see all stories here

Average price of room per night in a selection of Scandinavian cities

Here is average price of a hotel room in a selection of 7 Scandinavian cities.
  1. Bergen 1.122 NOK pr. night
  2. København 1.096 NOK pr. night
  3. Oslo 1.069 NOK pr. night
  4. Tromsø 1.032 NOK pr. night
  5. Stockholm 1.020 NOK pr. night
  6. Trondheim 1.010 NOK pr. night
  7. Helsingfors 904 NOK pr. night
Read these reviews on Trondheim, Bergen, Oslo and Copenhagen hotels

Bergen Travel Hotel, Bergen
Hotel Sct. Thomas, Fredriksberg (Copenhagen)
P-hotel, Trondheim, Trondheim
Quality Hotel Edvard Grieg, Sandsli (Bergen)
Radisson SAS Hotel Oslo Airport, Oslo
Radisson SAS Royal Hotel Bryggen, Bergen
Thon Hotel Bergen Brygge, Bergen

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Move all long-haul flights to Oslo and Stockholm!!

Danish trade unions are pushing Scandinavian Airlines towards the abyss. They demand Danish crew only on all long-haul flights from Kastrup Airport. This as their colleagues in Norway and Sweden have agreed to demands from the Governments in the three countries on drastic cuts in order to get additional financial aid to save the air carrier.

Norwegian travelers find it unfair that we shall travel to Copenhagen in order to get to destinations in the Far East and the US.

Today there are no long-haul flights from Oslo airport operated by Scandinavian Airlines. Stockholm have non-stop flights to Chicago O'Hare and Newark, whereas Copenhagen has flights operated by Scandinavian to the following destinations.
Why should Copenhagen remain the main hub for Scandinavian's international flights? Scandinavian Airlines should abandon Kastrup and move all long-haul flights to Oslo and Stockholm. That is the way to save the crisis-ridden Scandinavian air carrier.

It would furthermore be a lesson for the Danish trade unions that have lost all sense of solidarity in a common effort by all groups to save Scandinavian Airlines. To uphold such privileges is highly irresponsible, when colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries may loose their jobs.

Let the Danes be fully responsible for the bankruptcy of the airline, as their stubbornness will mean no government deal to keep it afloat.

(Photo: Magnus Manske)

Ryanair - status flights March 11th 2010

Ryanair is expanding its activity from Norwegian airports. Here are the latest news on Ryanair's non-stop flights from Norway to destinations in Europe.

New direct flight to Newcastle upon Tyne May 2010

Ryanair has previously had direct flights from Torp Airport to Newcastle upon Tyne. Flights were canceled due to low interest in 2007.

The company recently announced that they will try again, with 3 non-stop flights every week from Rygge Airport to Newcastle starting May 19th 2010.

More stories on Rygge Airport

Ryanair makes Rygge its Norwegian base

(Photo: Tagishsimon)

More flights Rygge - Alicante

Ryanair's flights from Rygge to Alicante are popular. So popular, in fact, that the air carrier will increase number from 2 to 3 flights a week.

Keep track of non-stop flights from European destinations to Rygge Airport

(Photo: Lobo de Hokkaido)

Non-stop Haugesund - Malaga from June 25th

Ryanair will start two weekly flights from Haugesund Airport from June 25th 2010. Flights will go Monday and Fridays during the peak season.

This is the second Spanish destination for travelers from Haugesund. Ryanair is already operating all year flights to Alicante.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A touch of class at Café Metropole

If you want to experience old world charm in Brussels, you'll definitely find it at Café Metropole, located in the hotel with the same name.

Hotel Metropole is one of the old exclusive hotels in the Belgian capital. Staying here, you're close to Grand Place, as well as the shopping area along Rue Neuve.

I stayed at the hotel years ago, and I do recommend it. You may get favourable prices during weekends.

Stately living in Brussels: Hotel Metropole - read story here

My good friend Øivind Grimsmo introduced me to the Café Metropole on the ground floor of the hotel back in the happy nineties, as he and his wife had found it is a great place to have a drink outside all year around. This as the outside terrace provide heating and blankets during fall, winter and early spring.

We ended up at Café Metropole back in November, as my friend Ketil and his wife stayed there. A much better place than Conrad Brussels, where we stayed.

We were there twice to soak up its all world charm. It has an extremely ornate decor and you always end up looking at the beautiful details in the large room.

Once we ordered Kir Royal as an aperitif before lunch November 18th, and a glass of Tripel Karmeliet the day after before we headed for the airport to return home to Oslo.

We had lunch at Les Crustacés at Place Saint-Catherine - see story here

Tripel Karneliet is a great (and very strong) beer, holding 8%, you may easily get a buzz from this blond, robust, smooth, and fruity three grain top fermented brew. Try one glass for a good time, two if you want to be a little tipsy.

Menelas - a Greek tavern in Brussels

We were lost in our quest for T' Spinnekopke - a classic Brussels Tavern. Walking through the maze of streets south of Grand Place, we had to give up and find an alternative place to dine. This was how we found Menelas, our Greek tavern for the evening.

Location: BBB

Menelas is located in Rue du vieux Marché aux Grains, 25 - a dark, slightly scruffy street, as most are in this area of Brussels. It was a relatively short walk away from Grand Place - if you do not follow our walk, that is.

Service: BBBBB-

The best part of Menelas was the service. Our waiter and the rest of those connected to the restaurant were VERY nice and provided excellent service. They had an informal approach to us as guests, presented as small talk with a big smile.

We did not have to wait unnecessarily for either food and drink, and felt extremely comfortable in the Menelas atmosphere.

Interior: BBB+

The interior at Menelas was a far cry away from what I you would expect to find in a Greek restaurant. No brightly white and/or blue or terracotta coloured interiors as found in most Greek taverns I've visited. I found the interior a little outdated and uninteresting.

One large room decorated in gray-green and apricot or peach shades. There were three tables the middle of the room, and the others were placed along the walls with velvet sofas on one side and wooden chairs on the other side of tables in medium dark wood.

Tables along walls were placed too close to each other, whereas there were more space between the free-standing tables.

Food: BBB+

At Menelas you'll get a wide range of Greek starters, salads, Greek specials, fish and meat dishes, all reasonably priced, as you'll never pay more than 20 Euros for a dish.

I ordered Moussaka, a Greek specialty made from fresh aubergines, minced meat topped with cheese sauce (€13,50)

Moussaka is the Greek equivalent to the Italian Lasagna, and is as delicious when well prepared. Sadly the Moussaka served at Menelas did not rank as among the best I've eaten.

It looked delicious - a tomato based sauce served in a rustic ceramic dish with a thick layer of sliced aubergines in a white sauce with cheese topping.

Good texture, crispy crust on the cheese, good, mild cheese sauce, but the tomato sauce was bland.

The Moussaka was not well seasoned, as it had too little salt, pepper, and sugar to balance the acidity in the tomatoes.

Wine: BBB+

We ordered a Goumenissa 2006 made by the Boutari Wineries. It is made from 70% xynomavro and 30% negkoska grapes.

Delicate ruby colour. A decent wine, all in all, with a mature red fruit character (figs and cherries). It had delicate soft tannins in the finish and a long, pleasant after taste.

(Photo: Boutari website)

Rating the Menelas experience: BBBB- (3,68 points)

Excellent service, and reasonable priced lunch and dinners. My Moussaka did not provide me with those strong Greek vibes. A good place to drink, and have a good time, as the atmosphere is good, but I would hesitate to return there for another meal. Maybe some of you have another (and better) experience to share with us?

Rue du vieux Marché aux Grains, 25
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Phone: 0032 2 512 67 39

See restaurant Menelas an other restaurants on this map of Brussels

Vis Brussels on Enjoy Food & Travel 2006-2009 i et større kart

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Boston: Clough House anno 1712

Walking through Boston's North End you find yourself in one of the oldest city areas in the United States with a history going back nearly 400 years. North End has a genuine European or British feel to it, with its red brick buildings lining the fine network of small narrow streets criss-crossing the area. Still there are few original buildings left from the pre-revolutionary era. One is Ebenezer Clough's house in 21 Unity street.

The North End of Boston used to be a peninsula and was settled in the 1630s, It was called ‘Island of North Boston’ separated from central Boston by a narrow neck of land. During the 18th century prosperous merchants, tradesmen and shipbuilders set up their businesses in North End. Slowly, as the wealthy relocated to the West End and Beacon Hill it transformed into a working class neighbourhood.

Master mason Ebenezer Clough built six identical houses at the back of Christ Church(Old North Church) in 1712. He settled in number 21 Unity, the only of the the six still standing, the other five have long since been demolished.

Ebenezer Clough ended up as a hero of the American Revolution. He later helped to build Christ Church and took part in the Boston Tea Party.

The Clough House was restored in 1971.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Watch your hands!

When walking over Djemaa el Fnaa, the famous square and centre of old Marrakech, watch out!! If not, you may get a full henna decoration whether you want it or not. If you are a woman, that is. We experienced this, and it was a very unpleasant episode.

Djemaa el Fnaa is a natural extension of the nearby soukhs by day. Here you find everything from herbal remedies to leather bags, metal objects or rugs.

Walking around you will be approached by strangely dressed men, with or without snakes or monkeys. One important piece of advice is – do not take any photos or let any creature crawl or sit on your shoulders. You will have to pay up for this alluring Maghreb experience.

We were however, this first day in Marrakech, unaware of another threat. All over Djemaa el Fnaa, there were women in colourful Niqābs, i.e. costumes covering all, except their hands and a little area around the eyes. We were to learn that those were the henna women.

I had turned away for a short moment, discovering as I turned back that a henna women had grabbed Susanne's wrist and started to work on a crude decoration. The maneuver was so fast, that she did not manage to pull the hand away, and suddenly she had dragged her over to a low stool to continue her masterpiece, not listening to Susanne's objections.

Susanne ended up with a large lump of thick henna on her right hand, sprinkled with glitter. The real drama started when she was to pay for her decorations.

As all this had been a involuntarily imposed service, we never intended to pay more or even anything. In addition to this, it was a very crude, low quality piece of body decoration. For all this, the henna woman demanded 200 dirhams (17,50 EUR). The answer was a no!! Then she started a clever negotiation process by asking; "how much is this worth?" As an answer to this, Susanne picked a 20 dh note out of her purse. The amount was clearly not what the henna woman had in mind. She expressed this by throwing the not on the ground stepping on it.

That was the last straw, and we left the area, with the woman in our heals. When she found out that there was nothing more than 20 dh in it for her, she gave up, leaving Susanne with a nasty lump of thick henna on her hand.

We went over to Les Terraces de l'Alhambra, the coffee shop that became our favourite during our stay. Susanne went immediately into the bathroom and washed away the henna. It left a crude pattern behind, and even though the woman had claimed that it would last for a month, it disappeared during the coming two days.

This is a warning to those of you that will wander past Djemaa el Fnaa in the near future. Be aware of the henna women. If you plan to get a henna decoration, do consult your hotel to get a high quality product.

More on Djemaa el Fnaa

See this 360 degree view from my visit.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A seafood still-life at Jake's

Look at this selection of delicious seafood for sale at Jake's Seafood in Hull MA. No wonder why New England is a Mecca for lovers of fresh fish and shellfish.

Jake's Seafood is a shop and a restaurant specializing in seafood. On the image above you'll find what is available in the small shop of mussels from common clams and mussels to Little Neck and Soft Shell clams.

Different clams are referred to as "soft-shelled. "Some regions call small versions of quahog clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) little neck clams. In the Pacific Northwest, many people call the Pacific Clam (Prothothaca staminea) a “common little neck.”

Little neck clams are hard shelled, as their shells are firm and tough to crack, whereas soft shell clams have more brittle shells which are subject to breakage. However, that does not men that their shells are soft in the conventional sense.

The Little Necks found at Jake's comes from Maine, whereas the the Soft Shells are from Nova Scotia. You'll get a pound from $3,99 to $6.99. To the right you can buy fresh King Crab meat, and it'll cost you around $25 a pound, but then you get meat only. It you picked out and sold the clam meat only, you would end up with a completely other price, maybe comparable with the crab meat.

Fresh fish from oceans, rivers and lakes

At Jake's you'll also find an abundance of fresh fish. From left you have fresh tuna, a species severely threatened by overfishing. From the Grand Banks there are large steaks from another threatened fish - the swordfish.

Both these are relatively expensive fish varying in price from $12,95 for swordfish, to $18,95 for a pound of tuna.

The fresh water fish are less expensive. You can get trout from Idaho or catfish from North Carolina for less than $10 a pound.