Mozart Moonlight Sonata Moonlight Frittata

Moonlight Frittata

In the month of March, I remember the man (is this an Ode to Boy?) who mesmorizes my mind with his mastery of the music he penned, I’d like to believe, by the light of the moon. Millions around the world and through the centuries, no doubt, also love the “Sonata quasi una fantasia” aka “Moonlight Sonata.”

March 26th marks the passing of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1827 in the glorious city of Vienna, Austria. I felt moved to create a culinary quasi-masterpiece in his memory, which I have aptly named my Moonlight Frittata.

Moonlight Frittata

My inspiration for tonight’s dinner includes traditional German and Austrian ingredients like sausage, quark, mustard, chives, and asparagus. White asparagus, in particular, is the prized form of this spring and summer vegetable. It is the same as the green variety most of us know, however the growing conditions are altered and closely monitored to keep the specks of green from taking over the stalks.

I remember my first exposure to white asparagus when I was 16 years old on a European tour with my high school. One of the first restaurants we went to in Salzburg, Austria served a silky, decadent soup that we thought at first was a puree of potatoes. What a surprise to find out it was white asparagus! I could have easily made an entire dinner of that soup along with my first samplings of wine.

Moonlight Sonata Moonlight Frittata ingredients

For my recipe tonight, you’ll notice in the picture a little creative license has been taken with the use of green asparagus that I shaved to achieve more of a white look. The real-deal white asparagus isn’t available in my grocery store yet this season, though I eagerly await its arrival! Also pictured for the recipe are eggs, Käsekrainer sausage from Olympia Provisions, Quark from Vermont Creamery, a German-style mustard, dried chives, and garlic.

Frittatas are super-easy to make and are a versatile recipe that you can make with a wide variety of ingredients. Think of it as a quiche without the crust. For those who like breakfast for dinner, a frittata is the way to go!

So just how the heck do you make a frittata?

METHOD

Set a 10” skillet on your stovetop on medium heat with a generous splash of oil or butter. This helps loosen your frittata easily when it’s time to unmold from the skillet.

In a medium-sized bowl, I whisked the yolks and whites of 8 eggs. Then I whisked in the quark cheese to incorporate into the eggs and enhance the creaminess. Whisk in the mustard, chives (dried or fresh), and minced garlic. You can use other herbs like parsley, marjoram, or lovage as those are also common in German and Austrian cuisine and have a relatively mild flavor.

Moonlight Sonata Moonlight Frittata baseMoonlight Sonata Moonlight Frittata Sausage Asparagus

Cut your sausage links and asparagus into bite-sized pieces. Sauté in the skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes until the asparagus softens.

Pour your egg blend into the skillet and turn the heat down to medium-low. Gently cook your frittata in an adagio sostenuto manner for approximately 10-12 minutes, loosening around the sides of the eggs to keep from sticking to the skillet. When your eggs are set fairly well on the sides and partly into the middle of the pan, remove the skillet from the stovetop and place on the top rack of your oven underneath the broiler. (Turn the broil on, of course).

Carefully monitor your frittata for even cooking and light browning of the top of the eggs under your broiler. The browning (actually, flavor-enhancing) process will occur allegretto! When the eggs are set and the center doesn’t jiggle too much, remove the skillet from the oven. Place a cutting board over your skillet (larger than your skillet diameter), and invert onto the board. If all goes well, your frittata will invert cleanly and with minimal browning on the (now) top of your eggs.

Slice the frittata like a pie into wedges and serve warm with a simple salad on the side.

 

Beethoven's gravesiteSince Beethoven is buried in Vienna (this is my picture taken in 2008 in the musicians’ corner at the Zentral Friedhof), I opted to savor my Moonlight Frittata with a crisp glass of Felsner Moosburgerin Grüner Veltliner from the Kremstal DAC. This particular grüner I found refreshing with its delicate notes of apple and citrus fruits and white pepper spice for which grüners are known. It is a food-friendly wine that pairs well with vegetables, seafood, poultry, salads, and even Asian cuisine too! Like the first movement of Beethoven’s masterpiece, the coolness of the wine lulled my palate with its fantasy of flavors.

Speaking of movements, I was moved to listen to Moonlight Sonata in its entirety as part of this cooking/writing project. Most of us are familiar with the opening of the opus. However, the allegretto and presto adagio movements are mind-blowing! It’s as if the moon is being lit up with a lightning storm to accent its illumination over the world. Fierce is the only way to describe the finale.

My dinner did not have quite the same kind of passionate finale, though I still enjoyed a favorable (and flavor-able) reminder of a country I fell in love with in 1996. If I weren’t mostly Scottish, I would gladly welcome Austria for my heritage.

Thus, I will sign off with a flourishing “Prost!” to the majesty of Beethoven’s music and its powers for inspiration.

Vitamin Sea The Dinner Whisperer travel chef vacation chef private villa chef

My Favorite Places for Vitamin Sea

As you’ve read elsewhere on my site, I have been fortunate over the years to travel around a good bit of the world. My happy place is always on the water, whether cruising or being at the beach. There’s something about the soothing sounds of water and placid sights of open horizons. All your cares go away, you gain a refreshed perspective on life, and the sun gleams its warm embrace.

If you are like me, you also seek out new favorite places to boost your Vitamin Sea when you need a relaxation break, and especially during the chilly winter months. Having lived in Seattle for 11 years now, vacation time always is best in January and February to head to the tropics.

vitamin sea travel chef vacation chef

Sailing in the Virgin Islands, 2009

Some of my top destinations to date for sun, sea, and cerveza include:

  • French Polynesia
  • St. Lucia
  • Kauai
  • Sicily and the Amalfi Coast
  • The Otago Peninsula and Fjordlands National Park in New Zealand
  • Outer Banks, North Carolina
  • Longboat Key, Florida

Since the Earth is more than 70% water, there are so many places on my list to explore. High on my list are to dip my toes in and do some snorkeling at Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro, Fiji, and Indonesia.

Alas, those are destinations of my dreams for now. Until then, I’m more than happy to walk along the sandy-rocky beaches around Seattle, listening to the rippling waves and catching a glimpse of an orca or seal.

Happy sails, everyone!

Small Business Minds Start at a Small Age

My first experience as an entrepreneur start with the typical lemonade stand that is a staple of American childhood. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time, setting up shop on a prime street corner in my neighborhood with a girl named Annette who lived 2 doors away. Our houses were located on a trafficked street that also led to the neighborhood pool. In the summertime, kids and parents regularly walked to the pool, passing right by the very corner we choose to host our business.

lemonade-standSummers in Texas are friggin’ hot!! Hydration and air conditioning are essential to maintain comfort and avoid passing out. One day, since we had nothing better to do, Annette and I decided to mix up batches of Crystal Light Lemonade to quench the thirst of neighbors walking or driving by. You know the routine. Give a dime or quarter, get a Dixie cup of sweet, tart, icy refreshment. Emphasis on the ice that way less actual product is being sold per drink.

We didn’t have any particularly fancy setup to our lemonade stand, not like kids these days do. Our storefront consisted of a yellow umbrella, two chairs, a small portable table, and an Igloo cooler to store our liquid gold. If we emptied a pitcher or needed more ice, Annette’s house kitchen was right there.

After years of behavioral training from my parents in manners and how to interact with other people as a young person, I knew we’d attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. My sales strategy was to engage the best hospitality skills I could muster. Every time someone walked or drove by our lemonade stand, a brown-haired girl with a ponytail and a smile only the tooth fairy could love would greet the potential customer with enthusiasm. “Hi! Would you like some ice-cold lemonade? It’s only a dime!”

Creep-o’s aside, how can anyone resist 2 cute kids on a street corner? I’d say our closure ratio was pretty darn high given the pervasive heat wave rendering us all a sweaty lot. As far as business goals go, my business partner Annette and I had only one objective for the afternoon: our friendly toils in the sun would be rewarded with ice cream. All we had to do was sell enough so that our pile of loose coins could be exchanged for frosty treats from the ice cream truck.

Needless to say, our mission was accomplished! The licks and slurps of our sweet ice creams were worth every moment of business planning, product development, storefront setup, and sweat-inducing sales efforts. “All in a hard day’s work”, as they say.

Our success at the lemonade stand was just the first of many inspirations I had in the upcoming decades to start my own business. These dreams I finally realized in April 2012 with the cooking up of Honest to Goodness Personal Chef Services based in Seattle, WA, and now with the advent of my work in the vacation chef arena.

Entrepreneurship is a tool for purposeful living. I would be remiss for not summing up this post in the spirit of the age-old lesson, “when life gives you lemons” — SQUEEZE THE HECK OUT OF THEM!! Business is hard, like unripened citrus, yet holds the promises of sweetness and Midas’ touch of gold in your life. I’m glad my small business dreams started at a small age to give me hope for the future. I do love me some ice cream.

ice-cream-truck-menu

Dessert Inspiration

In this blog post, I aim to share with you a little bit about my creative process for a recent dessert inspiration. My partner and I were out to dinner last weekend at an Indian restaurant in Seattle that we hadn’t tried before. The food and atmosphere were great! Too bad I walked away without my leftovers in hand that I intended to savor for lunch the following day.

But that’s beside the point. At the end of the meal, the server attempted to satisfy our sweet tooth with the dessert menu. My partner has been craving tiramisu a lot lately, which happens to be one of my signature desserts. The odds of finding this classic Italian dessert in an Indian restaurant were slim to none. Sure, we could have left the restaurant and sought dessert in an Italian restaurant nearby. I often feel disappointed with restaurant tiramisu, so that creative lightbulb went off in my mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to make an Italian-Indian fusion version of tiramisu?

Quick! What are classic Indian flavors for sweets and desserts? My mind ran through a selection of ginger, cinnamon, mango, rosewater (wait, that’s leaning more toward Persian cuisine), almonds, saffron, coconut, pistachio, cardamom, and raisins. I envisioned the pack of ladyfingers already in my pantry, the lady in waiting to be transformed into an elegant, exotic dessert. There was also a box of Tazo Chai Latte that would be a perfect substitute for the espresso or coffee in which ladyfingers are typically soaked. All that remained were a couple other key ingredients to pull off this dessert inspiration.

After we left the dinner table, I told my partner I had a plan. We walked to the Safeway around the corner where I purchased mascarpone cheese and fresh, ripe mangoes. The booze aisle proved a little perplexing as I wanted something clever to blend with the coffee for soaking the ladyfingers. Lo and behold, and luckily on the clearance rack, there was a bottle of caramel whiskey marked at 50% off. Perfect!!

Mango Tiramisu The Dinner Whisperer

We got home, where I set right away to peeling and pureeing the cut mangoes in my blender. I wanted a super-smooth consistency. Once the mangoes were sufficiently smooth, I added in the mascarpone cheese along with a dose of powdered ginger, a good splash of Madagascar vanilla, and raw agave syrup to taste. This I continued to blend until achieving a silken creaminess with a sweet tang. Since the color of the mango was diffused by the creamy mascarpone, I made a quick infusion of saffron with a splash of warm water and let that rest for a few minutes. This greatly enhanced the dessert filling’s color in a natural way using ingredients still true to Indian cuisine.

In a separate bowl, I poured an equal mix of chai and caramel whiskey in which I dunked the ladyfingers to absorb. The process for making tiramisu is a relatively simple one. In the bottom of a casserole dish, I placed a single layer of boozy-chai ladyfingers. Top that with a heaping scoop of the mango-mascarpone then smooth the cream out into a full layer. Next comes a sifting of high-quality cocoa powder (I used Pernigotti) over the entire dessert. Repeat the process for another two or three complete layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone, and cocoa powder, with the cocoa powder serving as the final layer/garnish of your completed dessert.

Voila! I now present to you The Dinner (and Dessert) Whisperer’s MANGO-MISU!!

Mango Tiramisu dessert The Dinner Whisperer Chef Laura Taylor

 

 

What to Eat in Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago (aka T&T) proved to be another kind of T&T, trials and tribulations, when it came to eating out. I vacationed there with my boyfriend in January 2015 for 10 days. We endured a lot of challenges from the start of the trip until nearly the end of the trip. All of these challenges chalked up to an interesting vacation experience overall that has given us laughs and certainly a lot of unique memories to share.

Why did you choose Trinidad and Tobago? you might be asking. For starts, anyone who has wintered in Seattle understands why residents want to escape to a warm, sunny destination between the months of November through March. I had been to several islands in the Caribbean already and sought a new experience instead of repeating a former destination. When I was research vacation options, a Hotwire travel package for our airfare and hotel nights proved a cost-effective incentive to check out the southern-most island of the Lesser Antilles.

We arrived in the capitol city of Port-of-Spain on the island of Trinidad on New Year’s Eve, just in time to enjoy a night of celebration and ring in the New Year 2015 in a country other than the United States. Trinidad & Tobago are not heavily touristed islands in general, so we enjoyed the fact that we would not have to deal with crowds much and could also get as local an experience as possible. Did we ever!

Due to the holiday season for both Christmas and New Year’s, most everything on the island was shut-down in the way of restaurants, retail stores, and other local businesses for pretty much the first half of our vacation. Breakfast was included at our hotel but we struggled to find local food for lunch and dinner the first several days. I recall a depressing night in a sad Asian cafe with very lackluster Beef and Broccoli. Asking the hotel staff for recommendations yielded their suggestions for a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant. We get that food in America, we want local! We’ve read about roti and doubles and curries and callaloo and pelau. Where is it?

 

Trinidad Doubles Chef Laura The Dinner WhispererThe first full work-week starting January 5th arrived along with business doors re-opening. Local villages around the island regained their hustle and bustle as a flurry of residents chatted with friends and queued up at street food vendors. One of our taxi drivers, Prince, took us through the town of Arima where we were christened with our first doubles. We didn’t quite know what to expect, other than the smells wafting from the canopied vendor guaranteed Trinidad Mitch Doubles Chef Laura The Dinner Whispererdeliciousness. Doubles consists of sandwiches (more taco-like) made of fried flat bread filled with a creamy, curried channa (chickpea) mixture to which you can add mango, coconut, chadon beni (like a cilantro sauce), or a pepper sauce. Of course there were varying levels of pepper sauce. One order of doubles includes 2 sandwiches, hence the name. You might think one is for yourself and one is for sharing, but your first bite will make you want to eat both sandwiches yourself! I think we ate doubles on at least 4 total occasions that week, including as a late-night snack when we saw a local guy set up an impromptu doubles cart on a side street corner downtown. Even a passing rain shower didn’t stop anyone! Mitch popped open an umbrella over his cart to protect his food, we huddled under a tree, and waited a couple minutes to resume the line for Trinidad comfort food.

Bake and Shark Chef Laura The Dinner WhispererOther street food highlights during that last week of our stay included “Bake and Shark” at the popular-with-locals Maracas Beach. Bake and Shark is a fried piece of bread (the Bake) with fried shark (the Shark) as your sandwich filling. Before frying, the shark is marinated in lemon, onion, garlic, and pepper. You have the option to enhance your sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onions, and various pepper sauces from the nearby communal condiment counter. As pictured, to my meal I added sliced cucumbers on the side as well as marinated tamarind pods. Pop open a Stag Lager, listen to the crashing waves nearby, and life is good!

Speaking of crashing waves, I’ll never forget the first time I was truly sea-sick. I consider myself to have good sea legs and not be prone to nausea since I’ve cruised on so many occasions over the years. Cruising on a major ocean-liner vessel and sailing on a local ferry across open waters from island-to-island are very different situations though. The waters between Trinidad and Tobago were especially choppy on the particular day that we chose to sail for an overnight getaway. We knew it was bad when the ferry workers, accustomed to making this trip regularly, were sitting down and held plastic bags nearby. The typical 3-hour crossing north took nearly 5 hours that day, complete with heaving and side-to-side lurches of the boat that made many lose their lunch.

Our time in Tobago was spent circumnavigating the island, chasing one beautiful beach after another. Tobago is definitely the better location for beaches than the neighboring Trinidad. At one of the most famous beaches, Englishman’s Bay, we enjoyed our first “Buss Up Shut.” This is a particular type of roti meal (paratha roti) that came with a freshly-grill piece of swordfish, curried chickpeas and poatoes, creamed spinach, and shredded dough-y bread. The shredded bread is what gives this meal its “slang name” of Buss Up Shut. That’s basically pigeon-speak referencing a torn, busted-up shirt.

Eulas Englishmans Bay Tobago The Dinner Whisperer Travel Chef

Trinis know how to “lime” (relax) with refreshing beverages. In fact, Angostura Bitters is from Trinidad! I had heard of and used Angostura Bitters Chef Laura The Dinner Whispererbitters before, but didn’t know the House of Angostura factory was located in Laventille, just east of the capitol city. We signed up for the factory tour, which took the better part of a half-day and concluded, not surprisingly, in a tasting room with dozens of rums to sample. Oh happy day on a tropical island! For a non-alcoholic option, we kicked back on our hotel patio with a LLB Lime Like a Boss Chef Laura The Dinner Whisperercold, refreshing LLB. “Lime Like a Boss!” This drink is made with lemonade (or a sparkling lemonade), lime cordial, and bitters. Of course, it doesn’t take too long before you enhance your drink with the primo rum you just purchased.

 

The restaurant-scene in Port-of-Spain redeemed itself when we were able to get into Chaud Cafe and the delightful Veni Mangé on the final nights before our vacation ended. Veni Mangé’s owner, Rosemary, was a gem! She welcomed us warmly and, upon hearing of my personal chef business in Seattle, fed us like family with a selection of classic West Indian dishes enhanced with Caribbean flair.

Veni Mange Trinidad The Dinner Whisperer Travel ChefJust like the restaurant’s name, the island nation Trinidad & Tobago encourages travelers to “come and eat”. A vibrant culinary culture will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.

Luckily, in Seattle, we have since scouted out Pam’s Kitchen, the one and only Trini restaurant in our city that satisfies our appetite for an exotic taste of the tropics.

Chef on a Bus

The Dinner Whisperer Chef Bus Experience Park Tours

Little did I know that my first adventure as The Dinner Whisperer would entail months of planning and preparation for a 7-day luxury motorcoach tour through Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons. Both are destinations where I had been before, but only for one too-rushed day while on a roadtrip from Chicago to Seattle back in 2013. I felt competent and confident in my abilities to produce food successfully for our tour guests given a glamping experience in June 2015 on top of all my other event planning opportunities. My personal chef team in Seattle had proven their abilities to maintain their workload and handle incoming business without my constant supervision, so I agreed to take on the venture as a hospitality chef for a luxury motorcoach tourism company.

Cooking on a moving bus has its ups and downs. And side to sides. I quickly learned and managed to control that queasy feeling in my stomach as I worked in a galley kitchen on a touring bus that navigated the twists and turns of the wild west. Each day’s menu included a variety of breakfast items, morning and afternoon snacks, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Thank goodness there were opportunities for guests to enjoy dining in a local restaurant along the way for lunch or dinner. That gave me a brief break to focus on plans for the next mealtime. Most of the day’s meals were thoughtfully-designed to incorporate local and seasonal ingredients. Being a wordsmith, I also had fun making specialty items like “Buffalo Bill Coyo-tea” and “Gin and Te-tonics”.

I planned menu items that could be served cold or room temperature and saved the hot meals for grilling outside or cooking on the bus using electric appliances like a crockpot, waffle irons, and an electric skillet. (For the record, I don’t recommend cooking bacon in enclosed spaces while you feel motion sickness). Storage space on the bus was at a premium, meaning we took only what we needed for ingredients and supplies, and shopped along the way for fresh meats and produce items. Luckily we had 2 small refrigerators in the main bus cabin, however we chose not to run the generators at night (noise ordinances) which meant the perishable food needed to be transferred to our hotel room fridges each night and reloaded in the morning. All of these are important logistics to be mindful of should any of you have the opportunity to cook in a moving vehicle.

Somehow I managed not to chop a finger off as I wielded a sharp chef’s knife en route. My body was not spared bruising, however, as I bounced from front of the bus to back of the bus like a pingpong ball at times while serving our guests. It’s all part of the adventure to gain your “sea legs” quickly enough and place that checkmark next to another accomplishment.

The guests on our tour were absolutely fabulous. They arrived as 5 couples from 4 different states and departed as 10 best friends sharing hugs, email addresses, and promises to travel together again soon. As for me, I’m already looking ahead to future travel with new ideas for how to improve my “cooking on a bus” skills.

Sicily cooking Travel Chef Laura Taylor

Introducing The Dinner Whisperer

Wow, what a journey it has been in my career and life goals to get to this point in time. For years, I have been dreaming, like so many others, of getting paid to travel. A dream job that is now a reality.

Years ago, while early on in establishing a professional career in catering sales and event planning, I had a notion of wondering how I could combine my loves for travel and food into a profession that could pay my bills. My partner at the time, also a travel junkie, worked in the hotel industry. We researched a company based in Denver, Colorado where we could go to school and learn how to become travel agents and tour operators. We would have been a great team working together to plan memorable trips full of wondrous experiences with our strong skills in planning, our keen sense of exploration, and hospitality nature in taking care of our guests. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be at that time. We weren’t ready. Too young, too inexperienced, too afraid to take such a risk.

Instead, my event planning chops were honed over the next 8 years with Marriott hotels and a family-owned fine dining steakhouse in the greater Seattle area. When the time came for a blessing in disguise that prompted my leap into entrepreneurship, my travel dreams took a slight delay as a built up a personal chef business. Honest to Goodness achieved great strides from 2012-2015 such that I could be bold enough to ask the universe to grant me time for traveling with my job. Out of the blue, on Friday afternoon in March 2016, I received an email from a gentleman with a luxury national park tourism company who just so happened to need a private chef. Did I know anyone?  (Enter the angelic chorus and lightbulb moments).

The time has come for me to step out into the world beyond my company’s corner in Seattle, and brand myself as The Dinner Whisperer. My name’s inspiration is described on this website’s homepage, and I am beyond excited to whisper magical elements into my food creations as I travel to serve people on their vacations around the world.