Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie (Banitsa)

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

The guests are about to come, but nothing seems to be ready. Does this sound familiar? If so, then you know by now that getting sick out of a sudden or ordering in Chinese are no good exit strategies. Instead, I suggest you a better alternative: a quick and easy recipe of a traditional Bulgarian cheese pie, or the so called banitsa. All you need is a couple of ingredients and about an hour to whisk the most delicious cheese pie your guests have ever tasted. I bet they will ask for an extra portion.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie (Banitsa)

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cooking time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
  • 1 packet filo pastry
  • 300 gr cheese (feta)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 tea cup filled with milk
  • 1/3 tea cup filled with yogurt
  • 1/2 Tbsp bicarbonate
  • oil or melted butter to grease the pastry
Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Lightly grease your favorite (round) tray with oil or melted butter.

Place yogurt and bicarbonate in a cup, mix well and set aside for a couple of minutes.

Crumble the feta with the help of a fork. Add the eggs, the milk and the yogurt-bicarbonate mixture and mix well until smooth.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Spread the filo pastry sheets. Sprinkle a bit of oil on the top sheet, and then place a bit of the mixture on it as well.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Roll the filo sheet and place it in the center of your tray.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Repeat for each of the other filo sheets. The rolled sheets are placed outwards from the center in a circle until the whole tray is filled. If some of the mixture is left, spread it evenly on top of the banitsa.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until gold. Once ready, take the banitsa out of the oven, cover it with a dry towel and let it “rest” for a while before consuming.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Serve with a smile, and enjoy every bite. Bon appetit!

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

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Traditional Swedish Gingerbread Cookies (Pepparkakor)

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Happy New 2015! May it be healthy, prosperous and joyful!

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions you may expect me to present you with a slimming recipe without any carbohydrates, fats or sugar. Well, we all know that new year’s resolutions only last for a couple of days, right? And since by now the first days of the year are simply numbers on the calender, it is high time to get realistic again and admit it: that diet we were planning on is (most probably) not happening, so let’s stop fooling ourselves, roll up our sleeves and bake some extraordinary delicious cookies based on an original Swedish recipe (the so called pepparkakor). Swedes tend to bake them before Christmas, and consume them all the way through the end of January. However, tradition aside, these cookies are the best way to wow your guests throughout the whole year. The result is always guaranteed.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Traditional Swedish Gingerbread Cookies (Pepparkakor)

Prep time: 15 minutes | In the fridge: min 24 hours
Cooking time: 10 minutes | Yields: 120 cookies

Ingredients:
  • 150 gr butter
  • 2.5 dl sugar
  • 0.5 dl light syrup
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground carnations
  • 1 Tbsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 Tbsp bicarbonate
  • 100 ml water
  • 7.5 dl flour
Directions:
  • Get the butter to soften to room temperature.
  • Add sugar and light syrup and mix with an electric mixer until mixture is even.
  • Add all of the spices and the bicarbonate and mix well. While mixing, pour the water. At last add the flour (sifted) and knead into a soft dough.
  • Form the dough into a small ball, wrap it into a plastic foil and let it rest in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200-220 degree C. Line a tray with a baking paper.
  • Lightly sprinkle with flour the surface on which you’re going to roll out the dough.
  • Take a bit of the dough ball, roll it out (until thick approx 2-3 mm) and form the cookies with the help of your favorite cookie cutter. Place the cookies on a tray, while leaving some space between them. (They are going to increase in volume while in the oven.)
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for approx 8-10 mins until golden.

If you wish you could only roll out a part of the dough, leaving the rest in the fridge for a later use. The dough can be kept in the fridge for a week.

The cookies become tastier and crispier as time goes by. Store them in a cookie box or a cookie jar to protect from humidity.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Bon appetit!

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

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Jamie’s Italian / Stockholm, Sweden

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

I have been fascinated with Jamie Oliver and his kitchen ever since my first visit to a Jamie’s Italian in Westfields. So when a new flagship restaurant opened doors in central Stockholm, it was only a matter of time to give it a try.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

We went to Jamie’s Italian in Stockholm just a couple of weeks after the grand opening, on a whim, after a long day of shopping. ‘Reservation?’, asked the smiling headwaiter, and we shook our heads in denial. ‘Well, we have some nice tables by the kitchen, follow me please’ she beamed at us while moving at a brisk pace away from the spacious empty tables overlooking the busy main street. Let me tell you, by the kitchen is not the place to be if you are planning on a calm and relaxed dining experience. It is warm, and it is noisy. Basically it is a front-row seat to any Hell’s Kitchen episode.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

A moment later we were already requesting another seating alternative, and we were finally escorted to a corner table in the main hall of the restaurant facing some serious meaty decoration. Much better. Although I couldn’t help but notice that all tables for two were in a close proximity of one another leaving little to no space for privacy at all. Let’s just call this a peculiar interior design choice and move on to the exciting part.

The food.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

We started off with some spinach croquettes and a squash and ricotta bruschetta…

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

… followed by Jamie’s famous mushroom risotto featured in the Jamie at Home book…

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

… and finally, a generous piece of lemon cheesecake arranged with berries which left me speechless.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

You already know I will be heading back to Jamie’s Italian really really soon. And if you happen to be around Stockholm, you should definitely do the same. The address is Humlegårdsgatan 23. Just be sure to book in advance.

Bon appetit!

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Healthy Nut Bars

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

When it comes to home-made nut bars, all you need is imagination. And a couple of ‘basic’ ingredients. Here is my basic healthy nut bar recipe that always does the trick.

Roughly following the measures is all you need to prepare tasty nut bars right out of your kitchen. Other than that the recipe is anything else but binding. You can substitute puffed rice with organic rolled oats, you can use any nuts of your preference, add seeds or dried fruit, and even top the bars with melted chocolate. (And these are just some of your choices.)

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

Healthy Nut Bars

Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 20-22 minutes | Serves: 6-8 bars

Ingredients:  
  • 1 cup organic puffed rice
  • 1 cup raw nut mix (pecans and cashew)
  • 1 cup raw almonds with skin
  • 1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3 Tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
  • Roughly chop the puffed rice, the pecans and the cashew (either by hand or in a food blender/processor) and place them in a big bow. Add the almonds and the shredded coconut and stir well.
  • Place the honey and orange juice in a pot and bring them to boil. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes so that the mixture thickens, and pour to the nut mixture. Stir well until all nuts are coated with honey.
  • Line a baking dish with baking paper leaving flaps on all 4 sides. Transfer mixture into it. Spread mixture by pressing down to pack it in and reach all edges and corners of the pan.

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

  • Bake for 20-22 minutes in preheated oven until golden.
  • Remove to a wire rack. Use the parchment flaps to press the bars down and compact them before they cool all the way.
  • Allow to cool completely (at least for an hour) and cut into desired size.
  • Wrap each bar individually. Consume within a week.

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

Bon appetit!

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Healthy Honey & Nuts Oat Tarts

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

My definition of a great dessert? One that appears to be deliciously stuffed with calories, but is in fact completely guilt-free.

Like these tarts.

They feature light in texture crust, topped with the sweetest crunchiness one can dream of. What is more, there are only healthy ingredients involved – oats, honey and nuts, all rich in iron and magnesium. Right down my alley.

Healthy Honey & Nuts Oat Tarts  

Preparation time: 2 x 15 minutes | Passive time: 1h | Cooking time: 18-20 minutes | Serves: 6

Ingredients:  

For the crust:

  • 180 gr rolled oats
  • 90 gr butter
  • 1 egg
  • 35 gr coconut sugar

For the filling:

  • 150 gr honey
  • 30 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 80 gr butter
  • 200 gr nuts mix (for instance almonds, cashew and hazelnuts)
Directions:
  • Pulse the rolled oats into a blender to a flour. Soften the butter to room temperature, and mix it with the oats flour until mixture consists of butter crumbs.
  • Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

  • Whisk the egg and the sugar and add them to the butter crumbs. Knead into a dough and set aside in fridge for about an hour. (Cover dough with plastic foil to prevent from drying out.)
  • An hour later, knead the dough once again, and roll it out with the help of a rolling pin until 0.3-0.4 cm thick. Divide it evenly to the tart forms. (Use the tart forms or a similar sized cup to cut the dough evenly.)
  • Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

  • For the filling, mix honey, orange juice and butter in a small casserole, and cook it on low heat until butter is melted. Add the nuts and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. (Or until honey thickens.)
  • Distribute the filling evenly into the tarts.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Cover tarts with metal foil if nuts become golden.

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

Bon appetit!

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

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Three Must-Try Restaurants in Nice / France

Dining in Nice can be a terrific experience. Quite more often though it becomes a terrifying one. With a restaurant at every corner, choosing right can be a challenging undertaking. While in Nice I did quite some sampling, and I had it all – the excellent ones, and the not so incredible ones. Finally I narrowed it down to the three must-try restaurants in Nice (in no particular order).

Côté Lounge

Cote Lounge Restaurant and Bar Nice France

It is impossible to miss Côté Lounge (4 Rue de France). Located on the main pedestrian street in Nice, this bar makes impression with its stylish round white tables, smiling waiting personnel and the cutest tapas plates to accompany your cocktail. It is a breath of fresh air in the dull myriad of look-alike restaurants that trace Rue de France. It is both hip and classy, and the same can be said for the trendy customers.

If you manage to get a place there, do not hesitate to continue with dinner after enjoying a couple of cocktails. I promise you high-end service, with excellent food and an eye for detail.

Cote Lounge Restaurant and Bar Nice France

Le Bacchus

Le Bacchus restaurant Nice France

Le Bacchus (1 Place Grimaldi) is a lovely tasty oasis located just some minutes away from the hectic Rue de France. If you are after premium service and no crowds, this is the restaurant for you. The menu consists of a la carte dishes as well as daily specials, but custom requests are also fulfilled. And everything is served with an extra portion of friendly attitude which makes every client feel special.

Be sure to book ahead of time (same day bookings are OK) especially if you prefer to be seated outdoors (which I would highly recommend).

Le Bacchus restaurant Nice France

La Terrasse by Le Meridien Hotel

La Terrasse by Le Meridien Hotel - Restaurant and Bar - Nice France

I have already raved about La Terrasse in my Nice city guide. But when something is good, it deserves a second round of applause. La Terrasse (1 Promenade des Anglais) is the place to be for a date night. With Nice bay painted in vivid sunset colors in front of your eyes, rich in flavor foie gras in your plate, and a glass (or two) of Provence wine, this will definitely be a night to remember.

La Terrasse also features a bar area where you can just drop-by for a drink. However if you are planning on indulging, be sure to book at least 24 hours in advance.

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French Riviera: Day Trip to Cannes / France

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There is only one place to begin a trip to Cannes. You say, the central train station. I say, Paul‘s; a small family bakery dating back to 1889 and currently conveniently situated right in front of Nice Gare de Ville. A traditional baguette with ham and cheese, and a cup of steaming coffee is a must before heading into the buzzing central station. The trip to Cannes takes as little as 15 minutes, if you are lucky enough to hop on the express train; otherwise a 30 minute ride separates you and the red carpet.

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Arriving at Cannes, there is no glamour to welcome you. Quite the opposite. Narrow streets, and old flaking off facades mark the way to the promenade, where high-end fashion enjoys a waterfront view from behind large shiny windows.

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The separation of glam and normal is visible even throughout the promenade and the beach. Opposite the fancy coffee places and luxury shops are situated organized beach bars packed with sunbeds and umbrellas. Fancy a coffee at Armani and a swim? All you need is to cross a street.

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But if sunbathing in front of branded windows and tall hotels is not a priority, unfold a towel at the free beach zone at the end of the promenade, right behind Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. You still get to have the feeling of glamour but, what is more, without having to look at the boxy facade of the congress hall that annually hosts Cannes Film Festival.

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French Riviera: Day Trip to Monte Carlo / Monaco

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Nice to Monaco by bus

Bus 100 (bus stop: Promenades des Arts, Nice, France – just opposite MAMAC, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) is by far the most convenient transportation to take you to Monaco. At a price of 1.50 euro per person (and a trip of some 50 minutes), you just need to sit back and enjoy the views, while it traces the beautiful coastline revealing a mix of magnificent beaches, untouched nature and modern architecture.

In Monaco the bus stops in 7 different locations, but getting off at the second stop, Place D’Armes, allows you to explore a lot of attractions all within a walking distance.

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Vintage Cars

Take left from the Place D’Armes bus stop to reach a lift which will take you to a beautiful 4-floor terrasse which stories are home to most of Monaco’s museums, including HSH The Prince of Monaco’s Vintage Car Collection. Truth be told, if there is one thing you need to see in Monaco, it is not the Casino, but this museum. Humbly pronounced as a ‘collection’, it hosts around 100 vehicles dating back to 1885 including the wedding Lexus of Prince Albert and Charlene, as well as a number of Formula 1 cars.

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Scattered around the floors of the open terrasse you will also find a Coin and Stamps Museum, as well as a Mini Zoo. (Oh, and a McDonalds for those who are extremely hungry.) Climb to the top floor to return to the starting point – the Place D’Armes bus stop, and then continue straight ahead towards the Palace (or Palais Princier de Monaco) located in Monaco-Ville. As you walk towards Monaco Ville the buildings are low and in subdued pastel colors. But once you begin the climb to the castle hill, take a moment to turn back, and you will be surprised by the view. In the foothill tall mirrored facades take over those low old-fashioned houses to reveal a whole different face of the city.

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Monaco-Ville

Architecture-wise, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco is not a big deal (a strange mixture of modern and ancient, but nothing to compare to Vienna’s Schönnbrun or even the Palace in Brussels); however the views from up top are marvelous.

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Two are the other main attractions on the hill: the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum. Both beautiful building. However all those small houses overlooking the sea, painted in bright pink, blue, or green also deserve attention.

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Place du Casino

Local buses 1 and 2 operate between Monaco-Ville and Place du Casino, and departure just behind the Museum of Oceanography. (Don’t be surprised that the price of a 5 minute bus ride inside Monaco actually costs more than the whole Nice-Monaco trip.) If you have planned on visiting any of the casinos, you have to be dressed appropriate. In other words, no flip-flops. (However shorts and tank tops are perfectly OK.)

Brand shops, and fancy cafes are all in close proximity of Place du Casino. If you are planning to get back to Nice by bus, the closest bus stop is Casino. Unfortunately, buses don’t run too late, with the last one leaving around 8pm but if you happen to be late, trains between Monte Carlo and Nice operate till 11pm.

If you decide to stay for the night, be sure to check out Monte-Carlo’s International Fireworks Festival; maybe there is a show on the day of your visit.

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24 Hours in Nice / France

Detail - Fontaine du Soleil - Pl. Massena - Nice France

Detail – Fontaine du Soleil – Pl. Massena

Truth being told, Nice cannot be explored in 24 hours. But if you happen to be on a tight schedule, this itinerary comes in handy.

09:30 – Breakfast at Le Coin Quotidien

Being to Nice, and having a breakfast at a hotel (any hotel for that matter) is a definite no-no. Instead, head towards Le Coin Quotidien (3 Rue Louis Gassin) situated at the entrance of the old town for an assortment of freshly baked bio breads and croissants accompanied by a selection of home made jams.

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11:30 – The MAMAC

If there is one museum you have to visit while in Nice, this is by far the MAMAC, or the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts (Promenade des Arts). The MAMAC strikes with its geometric shape and granite facade opposing the colorful buildings cuddled in the streets of the old town. The museum is open daily for visitors, and is free of charge. Permanent exhibitions feature a number of exciting French artists, such as Niki de Saint Phalle and Arman, as well as a plethora of international artists.

MAMAC - Juliao Sarmento - Nice France

Juliao Sarmento @ MAMAC

MAMAC - Arman - Nice France

Arman – Sans titre (1983) @ MAMAC

MAMAC - Niki de Saint Phalle Nice France

Niki de Saint Phalle @ MAMAC

MAMAC - Niki de Saint Phalle Nice France

Niki de Saint Phalle – Monstre du Loch Ness (1993) @ MAMAC

Undoubtedly the best part of the MAMAC is the rooftop terrace revealing breath-taking views of the city of Nice.

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14:30 – Crepes and souvenirs in Vieux Nice

If art has made you hungry, stop by one of the many crepe places in the old town; or, if you prefer try one of the many variations of salad Niçoise, probably the most controversial dish when it comes to ingredients. Then ramble through the narrow streets filled with tiny souvenir shops, and check out the flee markets; the one in front of Palais de Justice is a personal favorite.

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17:00 – Le Chateau (Castle Hill)

As the sun slowly goes down, head up towards La Chateau, or Castle Hill, which is easily accessible from the old town (just follow Rue de Chateau) for a marvelous view of the Nice bay at sunset. Once upon a time a home of a Medieval castle, this 90 meter-high terrace is now one of the main tourist attractions of the city.

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Leaving Castle Hill is easy; an elevator conveniently takes you all the way down to the furthest end of Promenade des Anglais. But don’t be upset that you have to leave behind the breath-taking view; our next destination does not disappoint.

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20:30 – Dinner at La Terrasse by Le Meridien Hotel

It is nearly dinner time and a lovely table awaits us 10 floors up at the rooftop of Le Meridien Hotel, just a 10 minutes walk along Promenade des Anglais from where the Castle Hill elevator left us.

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By night La Terrasse (1 Promenade des Anglais) reveals a gorgeous view over the Nice bay with the sunset painting the horizon is the warmest shades of red, and airplanes gracefully gliding towards Nice airport. Reservations here are a must, so be sure to book some 24 hours in advance. And do try the foie gras, probably one of the best in town.

22:30 – A stroll along Promenade des Anglais

Finish off the day with a carefree stroll along Promenade des Anglais; and be sure to check the program for a fireworks show, or an open-air concert, it is worth seeing.

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No-Carb Tagliatelle with Chili Pesto

Zucchini Tagliatelle - No-Carbs Tagliatelle

Now, zucchini pasta has been around for a while, and I may be a bit late on catching up with this trend, but I just couldn’t justify buying any of those fancy spiralizers everyone is raving about. Until some weeks ago, when I came to a realization that I had the perfect tool for faking a tagliatelle in my pantry. In other words, a good old potato peeler. The rest was a no-brainer.

So, these zucchini tagliatelle are a complete guilt-free treat best served with a glass of cooled white wine. Need I say more?

No-Carb Tagliatelle with Chili Pesto  

Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 2-3 minutes | Serves: 2

Ingredients:  
  • 2-3 medium sized zucchini (courgette)
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes for decoration
  • pine nuts for decoration

For the pesto:

  • a handful of fresh basil
  • 20 gr pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2-3 table spoons olive oil
  • a pinch of chili pepper
  • salt and pepper

Zucchini Tagliatelle - No-Carbs Tagliatelle

Directions:
  • Put some water to boil in a big pot.
  • With the help of a regular peeler, peel off the skin of the zucchini. Continue passing the peeler over the side of the zucchini lengthwise to produce tagliatelle-style stripes. When you approach the seeds, turn the zucchini and begin slicing another side. The seeds will prevent the tagliatelle from holding together, so you do not want to use the part with seeds in it. However, do not throw the seed part; instead slice them with a kitchen knife, sprinkle some olive oil and pepper, and put them on the grill pan.
  • Once the water is boiling, throw in the zucchini tagliatelle in it for not more than 3 minutes. (Longer boiling times make the tagliatelle squashy.)
  • Drain the zucchini tagliatelle, and put them into cold water. (This terminates the cooking process.)
  • Place all of the pesto ingredients in a big bow and mix them with the help of a mixer. Start by adding just a bit of olive oil, and then add more if you feel that the pesto is not moist enough.
  • Mix the zucchini pasta with the pesto. Slice the cherry tomatoes in halves, and garnish the plate. For extra decoration, sprinkle some pine nuts on top.

Bon appetit!

Zucchini Tagliatelle - No-Carbs Tagliatelle

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