Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rating Usaka Sushi Bar, Sitges

Four nigiri sushi, and six maki-rolls served at Usaka Sushi Bar
A few of my experience with Asian food in Spain, have been disastrous. This cannot be said about the sushi served at Usaka Sushi Bar in Sitges, but it wasn't intriguing either. My advise is; eat Spanish food in Spain.

Rating Usaka Susi Bar: BBBB (3,93 points)
  • Location: BBBBB
  • Service: BBBB
  • Interior & design: BBB+
  • Food: BBB+
Usaka Susi Bar - outside dining space
Usaka Sushi Bar is located by the San Sebastian Playa, on the north side of the town centre. Here you have the view to the playa, as well as the roofs and towers of the nearby cathedral and the Palau Maricel. You are just a 10 minute walk away from the railway station and the other beaches south of the old city.

We chose to sit outside, actually not my favourite place to dine, but where else to sit, during a hot summer day. We are seated on dark rattan furniture, very appropriate for Japanese dining. Even though the furniture are very robust, I did not feel comfortably seated.

Salmon, shrimp, tuna and white fish nigiri
The service was decent. We could choose from an English menu, from a wide variety of nigiri sushi, different styled maki sushi rolls and combos. I chose a combo priced at € 17, consisting of four nigiri and six maki-rolls. The nigiri were made from salmon, tuna, shrimp and white fish. The maki were rice, salmon and cucumber wrapped in Nori paper.

Maki rolls
It was presented on a wooden board with the ever present pickled and hot wasabi. We mixed the wasabi with soy sauce and tucked in.

It looked nice, neatly presented, but we all agreed after our meal that the quality of the sushi was not good. As none of us are sushi connoisseurs, it was, however, not easy to put the finger on what was wrong. The consistency was satisfactory, but neither the sushi, nor maki tasted good, or rather enough. When disscussing the meal with one of my fellow diners the other day, he suggested that the ingredients may not have been fresh enough.

Our dry refreshing cava
We enjoyed a bottle of local cava to our food, not a bad alternative, even though the dry sparkling wine may over power the subtle taste of the susi, it did not do this this evening. It was simply refreshing during the pleasant summer day.

If you want bite sized food, do try one of the bars selling pintxos or traditional tapas in Sitges. It is genuine, traditional, delicacies that they really know how to make.

Usaka Susi Bar
C/ Porte Allegre 15
08870 Sitges, Spain
Phone: 938 947 011
See company website here

Story of other Asian meals in Spain   

See location of Usaka Sushi Bar on this map

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Lights of Marrakech

My two lanterns brought the magic of Marrakech to a Norwegian August evening
These lamps were to light up the summer night. I bought them in the mysterious souqs of Marrakech, where lamps in all shapes were available, from those crafted in wrought iron to those made from food cans. One thing is sure, though, here you really have to look to any article stamped "made in China".
Magic lamp at Palais Donab 
The souqs of Marrakech are wonderful for shopping. Here you can buy all kinds of hand craft made from recycled materials.

In the Kasbah district I found picture and mirror frames made from old rubber tires, and containers that once held canned food has been transformed into lovely lamps.

Everything cost a fraction of what you have to pay in Europe, and you are expected to haggle to reduce the price further.
I bought two rustic iron lamps. They were identical to other, and much larger ones, lighting the courtyard of our hotel, Riad Libitibito. I wanted them to remind me of the cool, dark nights in January when we stayed in the wonderful guest house in the old city.
Wall lantern at Riad Libitibito
I paid around 60 dirhams, i.e. €3,50 ($7,50), and our hosts Tania and Zacharia confirmed that it was a decent price.

I may reveal that I were seriously tricked a few times. When shopping, I did a few major blunders, when haggling. I did not get that the traders started their price at 3 to 4 times the real price, and I was happy when ending up with a djellaba, a traditional robe and a bed cover made from sabra (cactus silk) at what our hosts thought were outraging prices.

500 Dirhams are a lot of money for Moroccans, but a modest sum for us. I have to admit that the djellaba may have been seriously over priced, but the bed cover in wonderful shades of blue and purple measuring 2 by 3 meters was certainly worth the price.

I lit my two small lanterns a dark August evening, and as the light came out of the  neatly cut openings, I immediately got a glimpse of Magic   Marrakech. The lanterns and the packets of spices I brought home are maybe the best memories I have from my journeys to Morocco, and I hope to return and experience the magic again soon.    

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hotel Port Sitges Resort - photos and videos from the marina and neighbouring areas

Here are two films from my YouTube account and a few extra snapshots to give you an idea about the Hotel Port Sitges Resort and the neighbouring area.
The main entrance, garden and the marina

Here is the area in front of the Hotel Port Sitges Resort, including the main entrance, garden and the marina. The garden area in the front was rather badly maintained.

Area north of the hotel
This area is located north of the Hotel Port Sitges Resort, towards Barcelona. You can see the rocky coastline, covered in green vegetation. Here you can enjoy a swim on a smaller beach. Drivers have access to the marina through this road.

The marina
Expensive boats in the Sitges marina, picture taken from the outer pier facing the hotel and neighbouring area.
View of Sitges
Sitges town as seen from the southern part of the hotel, Santa Tecla church and Palau Maricel clearly visible
The neighbourhood
You will find a number of restaurants, bars in the immediate neighbourhood, and                           you may seek shade walking narrow streets like this one.

Rating Hotel Port Sitges Resort, Sitges Spain

We had high expectations to our stay at the Hotel Port Sitges Resort. We wanted to stay outside the town, and enjoying seafront views and especially silence. These expectations were met, but my rating reflects the fact that the hotel had no inhouse bar or restaurant, and it was pricey compared to what you can pay elsewhere, and at that price, one would expect breakfast to be included in the price.
Rating Hotel Port Sitges Resort: BBBB- (3,70 points)
  • Location: BBBB+
  • Service: BBBB
  • Room: BBBB
  • Breakfast: N/A
  • Facilities: BBB
  • Price: BBB
See scoreboard for the hotel here

The Hotel Port Sitges resort is located by one of the town's marinas, north of Sitges. It is a 15-20 minute walk from the town itself, but it is recommended that you take a taxi to and from the train station if you carry heavy luggage.

The view from our room - the marina and the Mediterranean beyond
Hotel Port Sitges Resort enjoys a stunning location, with view to the marina, a short walk to the nearest beach and many restaurants and bars within reach. It is not the best location for elderly or handicapped, as you either have to climb long stairs or hills in order to get around.

Living area with sofa/sofabed and TV
Service is good both in the reception and by the cleaning personell. The latter did a very decent job cleaning our room.

The rooms at Hotel Port Sitges Resort are in fact appartments. Our room was located on the second floor. It consisted of a living space and a small kitchen, a nice bathroom, and a bedroom with twin beds.
The living space and bedroom were generously sized, the bathroom was on the smaller side. Neutral, and a little dated decor, bright yellow walls, brown marble floors. The bathroom was completely redecorated in light brown marble, with inlays of different coloured stones. There were small signs of wear and tear, but no needs of serious maintenance.

Kitchen area after one of our breakfasts
The living space had a sofa/sofabed and a round dining table seating two. There were a TV, with just a few channels, one being the BBC World. More international channels would have been very much welcomed. 

There was good sized balcony sith table and two chairs with a wonderful view to the marina.

The kitchen had two cooking tops, the utensils for basic cooking for two, nothing more. this was more than sufficient to prepare a decent breakfast and save the euros you would have to pay in the breakfast room. There is, for your information, a small convinient store providing basic groceries for your cooking 5-10 minutes away from the hotel.

The bedroom had twin beds and enough storage space for two. There was a safe, to be operated by the help of a credit card. It was a little hard to figure out how the open and close the door, but by the aid of the reception personnel we managed. The credit card was needed just to open and close, and additional costs will not be charged to your room.

There was very good high speed wireless internet access in the room and throughout the Hotel Port Sitges Resort, in fact one of the best I have experienced during my travels. Another big asset was a very good air conditioning system in both bed room and living room. 

Breakfast was served in the breakfast rom at Hotel Port Sitges Resort, and was not included. At € 155 per night, it should have been included in the price.

  • Breakfast room, no inhouse restaurant or bar 
  • Great swimming pool and sauna (the latter not in working order when we visited)
  • Free wi-fi throughout hotel, free PC by the reception, excellent a/c throughout the hotel 
  • Hotel well cleaned and maintained. Small signs of wear and tear.  
Bedroom had two comfortable twin beds
I booked the Hotel Port Sitges Resort at At € 155 it has been the most expensive hotel we have stayed in during our vacations in Catalonia.

The Hotel Port Sitges Resort is a good hotel to stay in, but is, in my mind, overpriced compared to what you get. Breakfast should, at least, be included in the price.

The Hotel Port Sitges Resort has its cleas assets. The swimming pool, wi-fi, and airconditioning to mention a few.

The Hotel Port Sitges Resort is, due to this, given a BBBB- rating. To include breakfast, have a fitness room and a inhouse bar would rise the score further.

Hotel Port Sitges Resort
Passeig Aiguadolç, 1-20, 08870 Sitges
Phone: +34 93 811 31 77
Fax: +34 93 810 23 40

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Hotels in Catalonia reviewed in Enjoy Food & Travel  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pacific oyster - an invasive species prepared on the grill

Pacific Oyster is invading our coasts. Photo: BetacommandBot 
As my friend Dagfinn stayed on the Swedish east coast this summer, he did his turn combatting the Pacific Oyster, an invasive species, that spread in our waters. Doing this, he enjoyed a delicious meal in the meantime. He did, in order to get access to all the goodness inside, chuck them on the Barbq. Easy, and no skills or dangerous knives needed.
For those of you that love raw oysters, placing them on the BBQ is simply an abomination. I find that raw oysters tastes seawater and are overrated as delicacy. I do, however, favour the idea to use oysters as any other shellfish, that is either hot, steamed, cooked, baked, or grilled.
I indulged in some native Norwegian oysters baked in the oven once with a cream, salt, pepper, and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Oh golly, scrumptious!!
Dagfinn found large colonies of huge Pacific Oyster this summer, very hard to open. His solution was to place them on the grill wrapped in tin foil, and they opened elegantly when they had to succumb to the heat. Then you could add your own flavour to the hot oyster and tuck in. What would I have chosen as seasoning? May I suggest tabasco, sweet chili, lime........? Simply unwind you mind, and explore!!
I love opening oysters, but you need a very robust knife. I have a small steel knife, pointed with a thick blade and made from one solid piece of steel that does not break.
Do you want to know how to open an oyster? Then see this instructional video from YouTube.

How to improve a Knorr pepper sauce

I gladly admit that I resort to a packet of Knorr sauce when I am in a hurry. I do, however, NOT serve it as it is, as most of these products turn out bland, if not enriched with a few basic ingredients. Let me share how I "beefed" up a packet of Knorr green pepper sauce to be served with the barbecue chicken and moose.

When preparing a packet of sauce, you are asked simply to add water, milk/cream and occasionally butter. Most packets are high in sodium, so you in rule do not have to add more. Other ingredients may, however, add balance to this saltyness.

I found, funny enough, when adding water to this Knorr sauce mix, that it seemed low in sodium and, in spite of its name, pepper. That made it unusually bland, and I had to search through the kitchen of Terjes mom, in order to find a few ingredients to improve taste and consistency.
Mustard from the Swedish Skåne region
Mustard, or rather, Swedish sweet mustard will provide a little heat, sweetness and acidity to the sauce, but be carful on how much you put in. You want, after all, serve a pepper, not a mustard sauce. If you need sweetness to balance, you may also try a sweet chilli sauce, and add a little extra heat.

Then I had to add a little more sodium. A little soy sauce will be equally good, nay better, as it will give a little smokeyness as well as saltyness. Then I had to add more pepper, much more, in order for it to be a proper pepper sauce.

I had to turn up the acidity, so I found a white wine vinegar. Be cautious, as little more, may be too much. As vinegars go, I will recommend sherry vinegar to a gravy or a mushroom sauce. 

To complete the green pepper sauce transformation, both to round it up, and make it creamier I added more cream. Then the sauce was ready to be served with the grilled moose and chicken breasts.

More sauces on Enjoy Food & Travel  
The enriched and improved Knorr green pepper sauce ready to be served
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A midsummer barbeque

Marinated fillet of moose on the barbecue
Summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Here in the far north we have just a few hours of night or dusk, rather. This year I celebrated mid summer in Sweden, with my friend Terje and his mother, and what else to enjoy this day than a meal from a hot grill.

I have to admit that barbecue food is not among my favourites. I often find chunks of meat burnt to charcoal on the surface and more or less raw in the middle. My friend Terje is one of those that can prepare a good barbecue meal.

There are many foods that can be well suited for the grill. Terje chose a fillet of moose and chicken breast. The first must not be overcooked, not even cooked through, as the other need to be just that (not overcooked ofcourse). This shows the challenge of preparing on the grill. If you are not careful, frying over hot coal (or gas) will leave you with dry and partly tough meat.
Marinated chicken breasts ready to be grilled
Terje works in a large, industrial scale kitchen. His boss had presented him with a bottle of his own home made, and very secret, marinade. Of colour it looked like one of those strongly coloured varnishes used for wooden boats, intensely brown-red in colour, but the aromas suggested serious culinary chemistry. We tried to deconstruct this concoction. Red wine, tomato puré, salt, pepper......., whatever it was, it appeared the right thing for a BBQ.

The meat was marinated overnight, and placed on Terjes gas grill. A good thing with gas, is the fact that it does not burn the food as easily as charcoal ones. Dripping fat has a tendency to severely burn food over charcoal, even though grill traditionalists swear that traditionally prepared grill food ends up with a different aroma left by the burning coal. Aromas not found on food prepared on gas.

Whatever, the food went on the grill, a cool June evening, and I dare say, moose fillet is probably one of the best foods that you can ever get. Terje cooked the meat to perfection, leaving a red-pink centre in the fillet. He, had, however a challenge with the chicken breasts. The never appeared to be cooked through, funny enough. Mine looked raw after a long period on the grill, in fact I had to put mine back on the grill. I do not know whether it was raw, but Terje suggested that some of the breasts could have been injected with water in order to increase the weight. This could affect cooking time and consistency.

The final meal

Sliced, medium roast fillet of moose - succulent and tender

Marinated chicken breasts served with pepper sauce, roasted potatoes and sallad
More similar stories on Enjoy Food & Travel

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

November 2011: How to get from El Altet Airport to your destination

View JULY 2011: All non-stop flights from Oslo Airport in a larger map

Wondering what to do to get to your summer home when Murcia San Javier Airport close in November? Here are a few pieces of information that may answer your question. 

Alicante - Airport - Torrevieja public transport system
On 23 May, 2011 the bus service starts between Torrevieja and El Altet airport.
Read more here

Alicante Airport Transfer To Cities Around The Costa Blanca

A direct bus line is only available for to get from the Airport to Benidorm, Torrevieja, Elche and Murcia
Read more here

Alicante to Torrevieja Bus

The bus company that travels between Alicante city and Torrevieja is the Costa Azul bus company.
Read more here

Bus route from Alicante airport to Torrevieja is on the cards.

It has been a long time coming but after what seems like a lifetime of requests it appears that at long last there will be a bus service established between Alicante airport, El Altet, and the city of Torrevieja.
Read more here

Murcia's San Javier Airport close November 2011

 Photo: Monarch Airbus 321 at Murcia San Javier Airport by Vordmeils 
- Norwegian winter residents must change to El Altet Airport, Alicante

Thousands of Norwegians with holiday homes in the Murcia area must prepare to travel further  from November 2011. San Javier Airport will then return to be a military installation as a new airport is under construction in Murcia.
An increasing number of Norwegian have chosen to buy a second home in the southern Costa Blanca region in Spain. Most of them have travel to the San Javier airport in Murcia. Norwegian Air Shuttle chose San Javier as one of its first international destinations when they started their budget flights far back in 2002.
Today there are non-stop flights from Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Tromsø to this airport. Many travel to the area around Torrevieja, that has been very popular among Norwegians. From November all traffic to the area will be transferred to the much busier El Altet Airport, awaiting construction of a new airport to replace San Javier.
In the meantime, travelers must travel more than 100 km (65 miles) in order to get to their holiday homes by the southern Costa Blanca coastline.And Norwegian will not give any guarantee to travel to the new airport. Norwegian has not decided where to fly next summer, says Press officer Åsa Karlsson in Norwegian Air Shuttle. Whether the air carrier will resume traffic to the Murcia area will depend on the conditions at the new airport.

View JUNE 2011: All non-stop flights from Bergen Airport Flesland in a larger map

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nes Jernverk - a Norwegian manor house

                         The majestic manor house at Næs Jernverk
Næs Verk is a stately home that has belonged to the Aall family since 1799. It is one of the largest stately homes on the southern tip of Norway.
A reconstructed part of the old ironworks at Næs
The source of this wealth was iron ore. Its predecessor, Baasland iron works was founded as early as 1665.

The iron works was bought by Jacob Aall in 1799 and has been a private home for his descendants since then.

Today the stately building is a centerpiece of a large cultural landscape and has certainly entered a new era. A museum has been established where the iron works used to be, as a monument to a time when the southern tip of Norway provided minerals for export to continental Europe.
The beautiful pavilion by the pond in the English Park
Visitors to Næs should visit the reconstructed English gardens. 

It is a beautiful spot, created as the idea of nature from the designers hand. You walk in the shade provided by large trees along an artificially created stream.

In the middle of the park, you find a beautiful white pavilion. Here you may envisage women in large white robes walking or sitting in a small boat.

The small lake is surrounded by greenery, and water lilies and other water plants float on the water. A perfect place to roam for romantic lovers and lovers of trees or plants.

Other images from Næs Verk
A typical 17th or 18th century farmhouse found at Næs
Another of the official buildings connected to the iron works

Location of Næs Jernverk - see this map

View Sights on Enjoy Food & Travel 2011 in a larger map

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A short instruction to some known and unknown edible mushrooms

Here is a short instructional video found on the YouTube showing some of the most familiar edible mushrooms found in the UK. Here are the chanterelles emphasized as one of the best mushrooms except the precious porcini. Here is also warning never to touch a solid white mushroom under any circumstance. Picking a destroying angel is not a joke.

This is a clip of Peter Jordan's highly popular DVD is a comprehensive wild mushroom foray through the seasons. If you want to start picking mushrooms yourself, do consult a book, or better take a class in order to avoid mushroom poisoning.

How to look for the precious porcini - see this other video clip

The porcini mushrooms is revered as a delicacy. When visiting the food market in Florence a decade ago, I found prices on dried porcini staggering, depending on different qualities. Some of the best had been neatly cut in slices showing the whole mushroom, both hat and stem and packed in cling film in beautiful baskets. 

Mushrooms - fascinating forest delicacies

One edible unknown mushroom (to me)
Summer of 2011 has provided near perfect conditions for forest mushrooms. Heat and humidity made all kinds pop up as early as July. But beware! As some may be exclusive ingredients in your cooking, others may be harmful, even deadly. So I am grateful for connoisseurs as my friend Dagfinn, that may separate friends from foes.

When visiting me in our summer home in July, we went for a walk through the forest. Everywhere we could spot many different mushroom species. In fact there were so many different kinds, and we even found some of the most delicious ones.
The most striking and safest variety are the chanterelles. They have the brightest orange colour and characteristic uneven hats. They are maybe the only one I would consider as safe for me to pick. We found only a few small ones, but where you spot one or two, there are likely to be more, even numerous specimens. Chanterelles are the most outstanding ingredient and can be used in omelets, pasta dishes and pies.
These mushrooms are edible and related to the porcini
The most precious mushroom to be found in Norway are the cep (steinsopp) or porcini. Our eyes followed the side of the road in order to see one of these.

We got a reward by a large spruce - one medium sized pricini in mint condition - no worm holes, fresh and firm.

Dagfinn, however, is skilled separating the good mushrooms from the bad. He found a large number of other good mushrooms, so we returned to our summer home with a basket of at least a few kilos of forest mushrooms for us to enjoy.

Quite a few of them had to be cut and rinsed. He presented me with a chantarelle and porcini omelet the next day, The other mushrooms were fried in butter, packed in separate plastic bags waiting to be added to a forest stew this fall.

More on Dagfinn Skoglund

Dagfinn Sigridsson Skoglund is 50 years old (forever) and is living in a studio apartment in downtown Oslo. He is working as a designer and art teacher, and is an excellent cook.

Dagfinn is a passionate lover of music, botany and is an experienced traveler - and he hates popcorn!