Český Krumlov: Excellent Day Trip From Prague

Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov

On the sixth day of our 10-day trip to Prague, Therese, Eileen and I took a day-trip to the magical southern Czech city of Český Krumlov.  We considered a number of options for an excursion outside Prague, and settled on this one as being most worth our time.  While the furthest drive of the places we considered, it promised to have more bang than sights like Karlstein Castle.

And what solidified our choice was when Therese connected with Prague Personal Guide tours, and Sarka at PPG told us about Pavel, a driver who is also a guide and has extensive experience leading small groups to Cesky Krumlov.  As we discovered, Pavel loves visiting Cesky Krumlov, and his enthusiasm for and vast knowledge of the city and the castle there elevated the experience considerably.  It was just a pleasure to spend the day with him, and we enjoyed Cesky Krumlov immensely.

Now, I won’t give every last detail of what we did.  First of all, it would take more than one post to do that.  Secondly, I encourage you to go there, and have your own fairy tale experience.

The castle is the highlight of any visit to Cesky Krumlov.  Therese made reservations to tour the castle, and also its Baroque Theater, in addition to all of Pavel’s excellent tour and commentary.  One of the cool things we discovered was that a film company was transforming one of the castle courtyards into a film set for the upcoming film “Emperor” starring Adrien Brody as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (the filming was scheduled to start the day after we were there).

Pavel and I left Therese and Eileen behind momentarily to pick up the tickets from the office, and shortly thereafter, our tour began.  The rooms we would view was restricted that day because of the film company, but our guide assured us that we would see some of the best rooms of the castle (plus, the cost of our ticket was discounted).  We weren’t supposed to take any pictures, but Therese and I surreptitiously took a couple of pictures, especially in the Masquerade Hall, the last and most glorious room of the tour, when the castle guide wasn’t looking.

Now it was time for lunch.  Pavel steered us down a staircase and off the castle grounds to the Svejk Restaurant, part of a chain of restaurant’s named after Czech author Jaroslav Hasek’s popular Brave Soldier Svejk series.  As I drank Nakoureny Svihak, an excellent Czech beer brewed in Cesky Krumlov’s Eggenberg Brewery, Pavel told us the story of Svejk – the character survives a series of misadventures set during World War One in comical by appearing fashion by appearing to be an imbecil – but the reader is never sure whether Svejk is the imbecil, or his superiors who he is seemingly outwitting.

For my lunch, I ordered a stuffed pepper.  It came with the usual dumplings, but the restaurant also supplied us with bread, so I used that to sop up the nice pepper sauce (knowing that dumplings are usually made with milk).

Stuffed Pepper Lunch at Svejk Restaurant

Stuffed Pepper Lunch at Svejk Restaurant

Our tour of the Baroque Theater was right after lunch.  To get there, we had to walk the full length of the castle complex, and we were told the tour would start without us if we were not on time, so Therese and I went on ahead, and Pavel was nice enough to shepherd Eileen along the way.  I found the theater quite extraordinary.  It was set up with scenery as if for a performance, and we watched a video that showed a performance taking place on the stage (this performance is also available on Youtube).

Then we got to play with the machinery a bit – I got to operate the wind machine (which consisted of spinning a handle as fast as I could) and another person rolled the thunder machine across the floor.  After that, our guide took us backstage, where we saw the elaborate ropes and pulley system that enable them to make incredibly quick scenery changes, using the same methods that existed when the theater opened in 1768.  Pretty wild, huh?

As we were leaving, the guide was talking about a performance from a festival that she attended in the theater.  She said that for the first performance, people didn’t really understand what was so special about it, so she was able to walk up and buy a ticket – and that for a hall that only seats 150 people (but on hard wooden benches, remember).  Anyway, by the second performance, the word had gotten around, and there wasn’t a ticket left for the entire rest of the festival.  She also said that the 18th century costumes are still in existence, but currently they have not been curated, so they are not yet being made available for viewing by the public.  But in the years to come, more materials will be accessible.

Once again, for this tour we weren’t supposed to take photos.  But it was so gorgeous, I had to squeeze one off, just to show you how beautiful the stage is.

Cesky Krumlov Baroque Theater

Cesky Krumlov Baroque Theater

A day which had started chilly and foggy was finally starting to warm up and brighten, but it was also passing by so quickly.  Luckily, we did have a little time for a walk through the historic center of Cesky Krumlov – Pavel had parked his car strategically so that we would find our way back to it at the end of our walk.  We left the castle by the eastern gate just beyond the first courtyard, and turning right, made our way through the medieval streets to the town square.

Leaving the town square, we passed some very attractive, colorful houses.  There was even a cafe that had well-preserved Renaissance-era murals adorning its dining room walls.  Finally we visited the city’s main religious structure, St. Vitus’ Church.

A short way from St. Vitus’ Church was the parking lot where Pavel had left his car.  We piled in, and 2-1/2 hours later we were back in Prague.  What an exceptional day!  Most of our days in Prague, I was careful to plan dinner at a great Prague restaurant.  On that day, we didn’t need to make any plans – we were all content to nosh on some light fare in the executive lounge in Hilton Prague Old Town.  It had been a very full day.  I will leave you with one more photo, of the three of us with Cesky Krumlov’s amazing castle behind us.

Eileen, Therese and Karl in Cesky Krumlov

Eileen, Therese and Karl in Cesky Krumlov

Posted in Beer, Castles, Cesky Krumlov, Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Food, Lunch | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Rum Raisin Apple Pie, et al.: Birthday Dinner

Rum Raisin Apple Pie

Rum Raisin Apple Pie

Occasionally, you have to get down and dirty in the cause of comfort.  My wife Therese’s birthday was recent, and we celebrated all last weekend.  On Friday night, I spent an enjoyable evening knocking together a birthday dinner whose highlight was a Rum Raisin Apple Pie based on a recipe from Epicurious.  There was also jumbo beef franks cooked in kicked up sauerkraut in toasted buns with bacon baked beans for the main course – I will tell you about that, but regrettably, there are no pictures of that (remember in school when your teacher would say “you’ll just have to use your imagination!”?  This is one of those times).

So yes, I made some kicked up sauerkraut as the base for the dinner.  You see, being something of an aficionado of German food, I can tell you that the sauerkraut you get in a bag or can from the supermarket is all wrong.  It is way too salty, and lacking in other spices.  So to get a good sauerkraut to go with your dogs, you have to take matter into your own hands.

Here is what I did: I drained a pound bag of Sabrett Sauerkraut in a sieve, and rinsed it with water a couple of times, pressing it a bit to get most of the water out of it.  In a saute pan, I cooked down a 1/4 pound of chopped bacon, and when it was getting some crispy edges, I added a chopped shallot.  I let the shallot and bacon cook for a few minutes, until the shallot was getting soft but not so much that it started to brown.  Next, I added the drained/washed sauerkraut, a 1/2 teaspoon of caraway seeds, about a half tablespoon of juniper berries, a generous tablespoon of brown sugar, and salt and pepper, and stirred that to get it thoroughly mixed.

Then I took four Hebrew National Jumbo Beef Franks and sliced them lengthwise – I wanted the flavor of the sauerkraut to permeated them as much as possible as they cooked – and added the franks to the sauerkraut.  Lastly, I covered it all with chicken stock, probably a cup to a cup and a half of stock.  I brought this to a boil, and then turned the burner down a bit and let it cook for a half an hour.  Then I covered it and finished it in a 35o degree oven, cooking it in there for about 20 minutes.

I toasted the hot dog buns on a panini press and served the hot dog/sauerkraut mixture on the buns with some relish and mustard.  Therese and I are mustard lovers and always have at least 3 or 4 mustards in our refrigerator at any give time.  Here is some of what we had on hand to go with our hot dogs this weekend.

Our Mustards - Sir Kensington, Rhinegeld and Domaine des Vignes

Our Mustards – Sir Kensington, Rhinegeld and Domaine des Vignes

I put honey mustard on my hot dogs – I think Therese used some of the Rhinegeld mustard with white wine.

Two fat hot dogs with some Bush baked beans with bacon on the side was enough to stuff both of us.  We sat and watched some tv and were quite content.  But I knew that my work was not done.  Earlier in the day, I had prepared the dough for the pie, and it was time to start making the pie.

While I used the Epicurious recipe for the contents of the pie, I used my old stand-by, the Joy of Cooking, for the pastry.  Rombauer gives all the information you could ever need to make pastry for pies.  The only problem is that she had the ratio of flour to fat totally wrong.  I have used many recipes from her book, and this is the only one I know of that has such a glaring mistake.

If you use two full sticks of margarine (i.e., one cup) to 2-1/2 cups of flour, you will have a dough that is impossibly sticky.  It will never work.  What I did in this case is I used about 10 tablespoons of margarine to that same amount of flour, and it was perfect.  In retrospect, what I should have done is added the full amount of margarine, and added more flour, because when I rolled the dough out, it was not quite enough for the pie.

This is one of those over-stuffed pies, you see, which is the way I like my pie.  Lots of fruit.  And the recipe, with its lemon zest and raisins soaked in rum, has a lovely bright flavor.  But with my slightly low amount of pastry dough, I had to stretch it as far as I could, and there still wasn’t enough to form a nice crimped edge.  But no worries, really.  The pie came out great and we ate it that night, and had more slices for breakfast the next morning.

Posted in Baking, Cooking, Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A la Turka Restaurant: Turkish Food in Yorkville with Tsvetta

A la Turka Restaurant

A la Turka Restaurant

Therese and I were very excited recently to hear that, with a little of our help, our good friend (and marketing expert/model) Tsvetta had gotten her first Manhattan apartment, in the Yorkville neighborhood.  We decided we should get together for brunch in her new ‘hood to celebrate, and Tsvetta suggested that we meet up at A la Turka.  Therese and I love Turkish food, so that was a no-brainer.

 

What I was not aware of was the connections between Turkish and Bulgarian cuisine.  Yes, I remember vaguely from world history class that the Ottoman Empire overran much of eastern Europe and controlled it for centuries.  Tsvetta, who is Bulgarian, knew intimately many of the items on A la Turk’s menu – while Bulgarian is a Slavic language, their words for these dishes are similar apparently.  Since she knew so much about the food, we let her order and she did a good job, always keeping my allergy in mind (the only difficulty was that many dishes come with yogurt, but they were happy to put the yogurt on the side).

In no time at all, we were enjoying lamb shish kebabs, stuffed cabbage leaves and stuffed chicken with lots of salad.

We also shared a bottle of Turkish red wine (not pictured).  While eating, we talked about Tsvetta’s new apartment, and about the food.  We talked about our plans to visit Bulgaria next summer, hosted by Tsvetta and her mom and sister (stay tuned for more on that).  I asked Tsvetta whether there are restaurants in New York City that serve Bulgarian food, and she told us about a good one in Astoria, Queens.  We made plans to go there for Therese’s birthday.

When we finished our brunch, Tsvetta took us for a tour of her new apartment.  It is cozy, as we say in New York City, but well-appointed, and Tsvetta and her roommate have already done a lot to make it into their home.  Seeing her kitchen, with cabinets filled with plates and bowls decorated with Bulgarian designs, I had a sudden inspiration: I want Tsvetta to teach me how to cook Bulgarian food!  We have yet to make this plan a reality, but when she has time away from her busy life of being a marketing expert and full-time student, I will invade her kitchen and get her to do it.  I can’t wait, and I look forward to telling you all about it!

What I d was not aware of was the connections

Posted in Dairy Free, New York City, NYC Restaurants, Restaurants, Turkish Food | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2014

This October we attended our third New York Wine & Food Festival weekend.  We took part in three events – two hands-on cooking events on Saturday (more on that in another post) and the Sunday Grand Tasting at cavernous Pier 94.

At the Grand Tasting, as we did last year, we split the day between sampling the many excellent vendors and watching culinary demonstrations given by Food Network stars.  I was thrilled to find that there was lots I could eat, dairy free, delicious and enrapturing.  For convenience, let me break these samplings down into three categories: dairy free samplings, special samplings (made dairy free just for me) and dairy free vendors.  I could define each of those categories, but I think that as I begin to describe the food and the vendors, you will understand what I mean.

Dairy Free Samplings

What do you do when you someone carving up an entire roast pig?  Well, if you’re me, your jaw drops and you stand there waiting for a chance to have a taste of it.  Kuma Inn actually had two such pigs on display(!!!) – one they were carving for eating, and the other one was a back up for when the first one got used up.  Each sampling offered a chunk of pork, a strip of crispy skin, and some pickled vegetables.  Wow!

Kuma Inn

Kuma Inn

My local supermarket features Bell & Evans chicken, and so when I saw that the Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality was offering Bell & Evans chicken legs as their sampling, I was very excited.  Their chicken legs were marinated in coconut milk and were mildly sweet and tender.  When I bit into that leg, it instantly became my favorite thing I had tasted all day.

FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality

FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality

Ever since I heard Chef Aaron Sanchez pronounce Pulpo on Chopped, I have been intrigued by octopus.  So when I saw that Chico Julio Bodega de Mar was offering pulpo en escabeche, I had to try it.  What they didn’t tell you, was that this sucker was spicy!  Wow!  I chewed on a few gnarly nubs of pulpo and came away with the sensation that my lips were burning!

Chico Julio Bodega de Mar Spicy Pulpo

Chico Julio Bodega de Mar Spicy Pulpo

Taste of Korea offered a sampling centered on Bossam (Korean pork belly) – with a cream made from tofu.  I marvel that to this day, people equate “tofu” with “tasteless.”  This cream was luscious and smoky flavored and contrasted nicely with the pork belly.

Taste of Korea's Bossam

Taste of Korea’s Bossam

Another contender for my favorite bite of the day was Mira Sushi & Isakaya’s Kurobuta hot dog.  I will confess that the roll it came in, a brioche, may have had a little dairy in it.  That little tube of delightful pork with a slaw of mango and jicama over it didn’t need the bun – it was a dynamite bite all on its own.

Last in this category is the grilled chicken wrap Luvo is making for Delta Airlines flights.  Therese and I fly Delta frequently, and while on our most recent flights, there were signs of improvements, generally Delta’s dairy free on-board options are few and uninspired (read: they don’t taste good).  Luvo’s wraps will be available as part of a for-purchase snack box.  I’m not sure how widespread their availability will be, but rest assured, the next time we fly Delta, I am going to request them and do whatever we can to get them!

Luvo Chicken Wrap for Delta Airlines

Luvo Chicken Wrap for Delta Airlines

Special Samplings

OK, so my first category was of samplings that were dairy free just as they were being offered.  This second category is of samplings that were not dairy free as being offered; however, the dairy element was something sprinkled onto the dish.  So for these we were able to put in a request to have the vendors make a special one without the dairy for me – and in each case, they were very happy to do this!

Volare Ristorante

Volare Ristorante

When we entered the Grand Tasting, Volare’s flank steak was pretty much the first thing I saw.  The chef had laid out the plates of steak and salad and was proudly grating parmesan cheese over them all.  We spoke up – um, could you not do that for one?  And thus, our day of tasting got off to a grand start, with a high quality taste of complexity and depth – in addition to the stated ingredients, there was roasted red pepper and dried cranberries, a wonderful dance of savory and sweet.

Many of the vendors are locals, and it is always wonderful to learn of great restaurants right in our town at the Grand Tasting (for example, Mira Sushi and Chico Julio Bodega de Mar are here, and we look forward to visiting them for dinner soon).  It is also great learning about restaurants we would like to visit when we travel.  In this case, Cunningham’s of Maryland was at the Tasting, and we will definitely look them up when next we travel to the Baltimore area to see Therese’s family.  Cunningham’s made an extraordinary meatball – once again, we asked and they plated one for me without cheese sprinkled over it.  There was no cheese inside, but there were pine nuts – wow, what a lovely surprise!

Cunninghams of Maryland Pine Nut Meatball

Cunninghams of Maryland Pine Nut Meatball

In a section of the hall over near the stages where the demonstrations took place were some food stations that had some of the best food in the whole tasting.  For example, Mira Sushi was there.  Right next to Mira Sushi was Prime Meats, offering a nice hunk of weisswurst over sauerkraut with sweet mustard on the side.  Unfortunately, they also sprinkled bread crumbs over the whole thing, and the guess was that the bread crumbs were made with butter.  We put in the request, and it took a couple of minutes, but they did plate one with no crumbs.  Surprise, the sausage had no skin.  How excellent a bite of sausage and ‘kraut dipped into mustard was, was no surprise.

Prime Meats Weisswurst

Prime Meats Weisswurst

Dairy Free Vendors

I have reserved the highest honor for those vendors at Grand Tasting who advertised their offerings as being dairy free.  Last year, I only remember coming across one such vendor.  This year, there were four.  Progress?  I’d like to think so.

I have seen Steve’s Ice Cream sold in pints in our local Whole Foods, and enjoyed one of his dairy free varieties.  About half of the varieties the company makes are dairy free.  For the Tasting, they offered a cinnamon coffee sundae.  Therese came practically running over to me with this sundae in her hand.  I tasted it, and immediately understood her excitement.  It was excellent.

Steve's Cinnamon Coffee Sundae

Steve’s Cinnamon Coffee Sundae

I did not remember ever having encountered Garden Lites products before.  I tasted their chocolate and blueberry oat muffins, and they were incredibly light and moist.  I will definitely be tracking down some of their products (especially since they were giving out coupons at the Tasting!) and will give a fuller report after I have done more eating!

Garden Lites

Garden Lites

It was with great pleasure that I found our friends from Gourmet Sorbet, the “Sorbabes,” at the Grand Tasting.  It was a year ago that I met Nicole Cardone and her partner and I am excited to see that their company is going places.  They have new flavors like Raspberry Dark Chocolate, and Nicole told me that there are more new flavors on the way.  Nicole and I are going to connect again shortly – I want to interview her for the blog – I’m sure you will be thrilled to read the Sorbabes story.

I have been eating So Delicious products for probably nearly 20 years.  So finding them at the Grand Tasting was like re-connecting with an old friend.  Their latest thing is packaged coffee drinks called Cococcinos, made with coconut milk.  While not that much of a coffee drinker, I do love the taste, and am thrilled to experience this new product.  But as I told the folks at the So Delicious booth, I have had some trouble finding the Cococcino.  Well, they said, “here, take one.”  My friends, that was quite a gift.  I carried that heavy quart carton around for the rest of the day with pride, and am now enjoying it at home.  This is another product I will be writing about at greater length soon.

So Delicious

So Delicious

What a day!  What. a. day.  And after sampling all this wonderful food, we finished off the day by relaxing at the north stage, watching some culinary demos by the likes of Food Network stars G. Garvin, Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and iconic Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.  I will leave you with snapshots of what they were up to that day.

Posted in Dairy Free, New York, New York City, Tasting, United States | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Café Louvre, Choco Café: Prague Culinary Tour, Part 2

Cafe Louvre

Cafe Louvre

Our culinary tour of Prague concluded with lunch at Cafe Louvre and dessert at Choco Cafe.  But having left Zvonice Restaurant, as I described at the end of my last post, there was some territory to travel in getting from there to the last three stops on the tour.  This Eating Prague tour aspires to cover a lot of territory, pretty much the whole city, or at least those neighborhoods on the east side of the Mltava River (perhaps if they are successful with this, they will eventually develop a second tour that covers the west side of the river – there are enough restaurants and sights there to warrant a tour of its own, I am sure).

So yes, there were three stops to go, and some walking to do to get there.  Having left the Henry Tower, we quickly encountered the Jubilee Synagogue, notable for its Moorish/Spanish architecture.

Jubilee Synagogue

Jubilee Synagogue

Having seen so much Moorish architecture during my many trips to Spain, it holds a special place in my heart.  The Jubilee Synagogue is not the only building decorated thusly in Prague – the Spanish Synagogue, in the heart of the city’s Jewish quarter, has a similar design.  But that one is not as colorful as the Jubilee.  My quarrel at this point was with the narrowness of the street – I wasn’t able to get far enough away from the synagogue to get a good picture of the whole building!  Oh well, next time when I visit Prague, I will have to bring a camera with a wide-angle lens!

At the end of that block, we turned right, and our guide pointed out Prague’s main railway station on our left.  Of note there is that the station is on Wilsonova street, named for the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and there is also a statue of Wilson standing in front of the station.  Apparently, the first president of what was then called Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who was educated in the United States and married an American woman, was good friends with President Wilson and a great admirer of American democracy, and aspired to bring Wilsonian democracy to Czechoslovakia.

When we reached the end of that street (Opletalova), we ran smack dab into Wenceslas Square, Prague’s main square.  Several blocks long, it is really more what we would call a plaza I suppose rather than a square.  To our left we could see the statue of Saint Wenceslas on a horse that is positioned at the southern end of the square, and the National Museum, which is currently being renovated (the building’s foundations were unfortunately damaged when the Metro station below Wenceslas Square was built).

 

Mirka, our guide, had told us when we walked across the square to get a good look at the horse statue, and we saw why just a minute later.  In the middle of the nearby Lucerna Palace shopping mall is a sculpture by modern Czech artist David Cerny hanging from the ceiling in the form of Saint Wenceslas riding an upside down, dead horse.

David Cerny's Statue of Wenceslas on a Dead Horse

David Cerny’s Statue of Wenceslas on a Dead Horse

Cerny’s sculpture here, as with all his work (there are several other prominent works of his displayed around the city), is a critical comment on the current state of affairs in the Czech Republic.  There are different interpretations as to exactly what this sculpture means, but all agree that Cerny is seeking to criticize the political system in place.  As a visitor, my take on it is that the mere fact that Cerny’s work is on display in Prague, and that it has not been destroyed by an angry mob who threatened his life, is a sign of a healthy open society, the antithesis of what existed under the Soviet regime.

Having had our dose of political commentary, it was time to wash it down with some good beer.  And not far from here was the Novoměstský Pivovar (Newtown Brewery), a microbrewery and restaurant.

As we sipped our small beers – I chose dark and Therese went for the pale one – the brewery’s manager gave us a short tour of the facilities.  He gave details on the process of making the beer in Czech and then our guide translated his comments into English.  He showed us the ingredients, including the pelletized hops, that are used in making beer.  I accepted his offer to taste the hops, and was almost instantly sorry I did – the bitterness in that little pellet stayed in my mouth for the rest of the tour.  Thankfully, the creamy smooth beer helped to was a bit of the bitterness away.

On our way to the next stop, our sit-down lunch at Cafe Louvre, we passed through the brightly-lit Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade.  Prague certainly does seem to have its share of gaudy indoor shopping spaces!

Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade

Pasaz Svetozor Shopping Arcade

The main thing Mirka wanted to point out to us here was an ice cream counter that is very popular with Prague’s school children – she said that they come here after the last day of school to celebrate – but she cautioned that the ice cream is not such good quality.  My reaction: ok, worthy of our time why?

Next we walked into the Frantiskanska Zahrada (or Franciscan Gardens or Park).

Frantiskanska Park is certainly a hidden gem, an unexpected oasis of calm in the middle of downtown Prague.  But personally, I would’ve been happy to skip the shopping arcade and this park and move on directly to the lunch restaurant – especially since at this point it was obvious that we were behind schedule.

Lunch at Cafe Louvre was our next, and penultimate, stop.

I will leave others to talk about the historic significance of Cafe Louvre (yes, it is more than a hundred years old, and people like Franz Kafka have eaten there).  I will just say that it is a beautiful cafe, no question.  I found the food rather pedestrian, and as Therese said as we were leaving there, could we not have been offered something more than water to accompany our lunch (like maybe a glass of wine – I’m sure we all would’ve paid extra to buy a couple of bottles to share)?  The logistics of accommodating a rather large group in a popular cafe in the middle of the day must be challenging – but maybe if we hadn’t been so behind schedule, we could’ve relaxed and enjoyed the lunch a little more.

And what was lunch?  Braised beef with cream sauce for everyone else – for me, goulash.  I mostly stayed away from the dumplings since I couldn’t be sure if they had dairy (our guide thought they were safe, but I was cautious).

To finish off the day, we had dessert at Choco Cafe.

Here is where our guide really came through for me.  She had called ahead and gotten them to make me a (mostly) dairy free version of the dessert – a long wafer like roll for dipping in coconut milk-based hot chocolate.  She did warn me that the the cookie was made with a tiny bit of milk.  I was willing to take the risk just this once, and I was well-compensated for my bravery/foolhardiness.  This was a dynamite finish to an afternoon of eating.

Choco Cafe Dessert - Coconut Milk-based Hot Cocoa and Dipping Cookie

Choco Cafe Dessert – Coconut Milk-based Hot Cocoa and Dipping Cookie

So how would I rate Eating Prague’s culinary tour, compared to others we have taken?  I would give this one a definite “B.”  They are fairly new, having just started giving tours a month or two earlier, and I’d say they are off to a great start, but they have some kinks to work out.  I would suggest not trying to cover so much ground geographically.  There are several neighborhoods in Prague where you could easily do a 4-hour romp of food establishments and not have to travel far.  The tour we took in Toronto two years ago, for example, took place on a 5-block stretch of one street, and it was plenty varied and interesting – I would bet it would be possible to do something similar in Prague.

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Eating Prague Culinary Tour: Seven Stops in Five Hours in Prague

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

On the fifth day of our 10-day trip to Prague, Therese and I took a culinary tour with Eating Prague Tours.  We were part of a lively group of 10 people with a wonderful guide named Mirka (I’m pretty sure that was her) who visited 7 different culinary stops.  The tour was supposed to be four hours, but it took a little longer than expected – five hours, to be precise.  That didn’t bother us a bit, but I gather some people had plans for later in the day or that sort of thing (more on that later).

To keep things at a manageable length, I thought I would break the culinary tour into two posts.  In this first one, I will cover stops one through four, and in the second/concluding post, I will cover 5 through seven.  Just so you don’t think you’ll be getting cheated in the 2nd post, I can tell you that we covered more ground geographically later in the day, so there are more city sights we encountered along the way that I will describe in that later post.  So please do check it out.

1. Le Court Galerie.  OK.  So we had an invigorating walk from our hotel to the starting point of the tour, Le Court Galerie, a cafe set in an enviable location, a quiet courtyard lined with trees.  It is the perfect place to have a beverage and a snack, which is what we did, while we waited for everyone to arrive.

I should tell you that the strudel we were offered was NOT dairy free.  Here’s what happened: even though I had told Eating Prague about my allergy when I reserved our place on the tour, somehow that information was not communicated to Mirka.  When we went around the group and introduced ourselves, I talked about this blog and my allergy, and she apologized and immediately went to work contacting other stops along the tour to ensure that there would be dairy free options for me (yay!).  But she couldn’t do anything about the strudel.

So what did I do?  I reasoned that a tiny taste would not be enough to make me sick (I know that some of you would not choose to take this risk, but based on my experience, I felt comfortable doing this).  This strudel, in any case, was a modern, healthy take on the popular dessert.  The apples had a bit of crunch to them, and they weren’t bathed in lots of sauce.  And the pastry was not flaky with layers of butter, but more like a wonton wrapper.

At this first stop, I think our hostess could’ve been more cut-throat about getting off to a timely start.  There was a group of three ladies who were running late and had informed her of that; but when they arrived, instead of rushing us off to the next stop, she let us all linger for a good bit of time so the three late arrivals could enjoy a beverage and some strudel.  Which was fine with me, but I’m just saying: if there are time concerns, that would be a place to cut some.

2. Sisters Bistro & 3. Naše Maso.  I mention these two stops in the same breath, because they are literally right next to each other, with their entrances facing each other across a narrow alley-way.

Sisters Bistro is an homage to the Czech open-faced sandwich or chlebiky, but with a modern, farm-to-table twist.  We were told that one of the two sisters who started the restaurant is a pioneer in bringing the farm-to-table concept to Prague, and in promoting the neighborhood food markets that will support this movement.

All of the open-faced sandwiches we tried featured some great fresh vegetables: beet puree and basil, celeriac and tomato, even the herring sandwich came with radish and dill.  The first one came with a sizable dollop of mozzarella, which I let Therese handle for me.

I had hardly swallowed my third sandwich sample when it was already time to slide across the alley to Naše Maso.  This is the cool, hip butcher that we all wish we had in our neighborhood, and all appearances is that this establishment, just a year after opening, is already quite popular.

Now normally I am not much for hip, but this is a little different than the hip I am used to – this is hip with substance (I think we need a new word for that).  The cured and smoked meats are done slowly using natural ingredients in a way that delivers the flavor cleanly.

Naše Maso Samplings

Naše Maso Samplings

As much as I loved the hams, especially the second one that tasted a bit like pastrami, the two sausages were even better.  And the house mustard, spicy and sharp, was perfect for dipping the sausages.

I am glad that we had a fair amount of walking to do after samplings these hams and sausages, because I was pretty full at that point.  Our journey took us through Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the square near to our hotel, where there was the opportunity for photos of the soot-covered Powder Tower.  At that point, we passed from Old Town to New Town (the section of Prague that was founded in 1348).  Our guide explained to us that the street called Na příkopě, which is now a busy commercial street full of shops, whose name means “At the moat,” was the site of the moat that separated the two sections of the city.  We left the square behind and turned southeast, passing through the Czech National Bank building to our next stop, a surprise.

4. Restaurant Zvonice.  Zvonice is notable for its location, inside Henry’s Tower, the tallest belfry in Prague. In modern times, the belfry was stabilized by building a structure within it, so that it now features an elevator and stairs as well as air conditioning.

Henry's Tower

Henry’s Tower

The dish that Mirka promised us at Zvonice was a sauerkraut soup.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat the sauerkraut soup, but the soup that was prepared for me was also quite lovely: a chicken consomme with julienned carrots and a dear sausage.  This was a result of one of the phone calls that dear Mirka had made after hearing of my allergy – and I of course was very appreciative.

I enjoyed the soup, but I think the best part of being at Zvonice was sitting at the long table with our group in the cozy confines of the restaurant – using one of the floors of the belfry, with large beams cutting through it, I would guess that the restaurant seats less than 30 people.  On the way down, I thought I would walk; but when, after just a couple of flights, the elevator opened on the floor near me, I hopped aboard, and there was Therese, as if she had been waiting for me.

At that point, I had probably already eaten enough food for the day; but there were still 3 more stops.  One of them would be for a sit-down lunch (wait, hadn’t we just done that?), one would be at a local micro-brewery, and lastly, there was a dessert promised (and for me, there would be a nearly-dairy free version of the dessert).

As we left Henry’s Tower and started on our way further south, I turned and saw this cool retro Coca Cola ad painted on the side of a building:

Coca Cola Ad

Coca Cola Ad

Posted in Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Prague, Travel, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snack Safely: Just What It Says!

Snack Safely is one of the great resources I learned about recently at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas.  I was at lunch when I overheard someone talking about how Snack Safely had recently downgraded Oreos, removing them from their list of snacks that are safe to eat.

This got my attention.  Here we are at the Conference, with so many artisanal and allergy free brands represented, and someone is talking about something as mainstream as Oreos?  I had to find out more.  It was explained to me that beyond the ingredients listed on a snack’s box, there can sometimes be issues, such as cross-contamination, that make a product unsafe for us food allergic folks.

Also, I was a little shocked to hear that Oreos might be unsafe.  Yes, back in the day when most mainstream snack companies routinely put whey or other milk products in their cookies, Nabisco’s Oreos were off-limits for me.  Luckily, Nabisco’s rival cookie company, Sunshine had several cookie varieties that were dairy free, including Hydrox, which was somewhat similar to the Oreo (chocolate crunchy cookie outside, sugary creamy filling).  But at some point, I read the ingredients on Oreos, and they had removed the whey, and yay, I could eat them!

So to hear that they were maybe not really safe was going to make me sad.  But two items of clarification are necessary to conclude this story.  The first is about Snack Safely.  Louise uses them religiously, because their focus is on peanut allergy (which is the food allergy with which she is concerned).  Luckily, the work they do revealing companies’ manufacturing processes can also be very helpful to us dairy-avoiding folks.  But peanut allergy is what they are trying to address.

Second, in reading their report on Oreos, they do say that original and double stuff varieties are ok, but everything else is best avoided.  Phew!  I can live with a world where the only kind of Oreos I can safely eat are original and double stuff.

But let me tell you a little more about Snack Safely.  They produce a Snack List, which is updated regularly, where they break down snacks into different categories (pretzels, chips, cookies, etc.) and then tell you in each category which brands and varieties are definitely safe for people with peanut allergies to eat.  They also partner with manufacturers and have a list of those companies that work with them in making their ingredients as well as manufacturing processes clear to consumers. (An aside: many of the brands/companies on their list are companies I had not previously heard of, like Cybele’s and Enjoy Life, which I encountered for the first time at the conference).

To me, what Snack Safely is doing is pretty extraordinary!  To be advocating for us food allergic folks and making connections with companies cannot be an easy job.  I am sure there are some companies, especially the big conglomerates, who probably don’t want to be bothered with disclosing their manufacturing processes to the general public.  The fact that Snack Safely gets so many companies to do this is an incredible service to us.

And again, I am including us (dairy allergic folks) in this conversation, even though Snack Safely is focused on peanut allergy.  As I said earlier, I’m sure that a lot of the information they convey is also helpful to us.  Also, the high degree of professionalism they have shown in advocating for the peanut allergic is an inspiration to us.  We need a dairy free version of Snack Safely!  Well, until we have that, Snack Safely is a wonderful tool for getting information on what’s safe to munch on.

Posted in Dairy Free, Food Allergy Advocacy, Lists | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment