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From Croatia with Love – Ajvar

In Croatia servers don’t ask, “Red or Green?” like they do in New Mexico, but if they did, your response would be the same, “Both!” If you know the Southwest then you know that one of the best things is the smell of chiles roasting along the roadsides in the fall. Now you will be happy to know that incredible smell can be found in another pepper loving part of the world – Croatia! Whereas in the American Southwest red or green chiles are made into a spicy sauce for enchiladas, burritos or their famous Pozole, Croatians make Ajvar (pronounced eye var) to top slices of bread, roasted lamb or to eat with salad. It’s a great appetizer, and fun to share with a bottle of Croatian wine.

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What is Ajvar, you ask? Well, it is a roasted concoction of peppers and eggplant that, after roasting is simmered and stewed with oil until it thickens and develops its signature complex flavor. Red Ajvar is most commonly made with Roga – a red horned pepper, but green and yellow paprike peppers can also be used to make Ajvar.

Just like in New Mexico, Croatia has a variety of peppers that lend themselves to roasting. Paprike peppers tend to have a thicker skin and flesh making them easy to fire-blister and peel. In September and October, peppers of all kinds overflow in the Croatian markets making Ajvar a great choice for canning  – a way to preserve a taste of summer for winter.

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How is Ajvar made?

In Croatia, peppers are blistered over a coal fire or in the oven. Once the skin is charred, they are placed into a covered dish allowing the steam to loosen the peel. After the peppers are cooled, the skins and seeds are removed and chopped into small pieces. While the peppers blister, the eggplant is roasted, and once soft, is added to the chopped peppers along with a few hot peppers for those who like a little zing. The vegetables (well, really fruits) are blended or processed into a fine puree and simmered with oil for hours until a rich thick paste forms. The resulting flavor is one that teases the palate first with a hint of sweet, then the smoke of the charred peppers and lastly, the perfect bit of heat to keep you wanting more.

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Serving Ajvar

Ajvar is delicious straight out of the jar, but one of the best ways to serve Ajvar is with cheese, oil and garlic. Fats of the olive oil and creaminess of the cheese contribute to Ajvar’s complexity and create a magical flavor balance. An unsalted cheese highlights the sweetness of the eggplant and gives the dip an even creamier texture, the garlic adds another depth of flavor and the olive oil brings out the counterbalance of both the pepper flavor and spice. It’s an entirely addicting combination not to be missed!

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Travel Croatia

Croatia is a must-see country for so many reasons – the land is beautiful, the people are friendly and the food is AMAZING! When you visit, you will want to plan a trip to the grocery stores just for Ajvar. Entire aisles are dedicated to this delicacy, so make it at home with Tamara Novakovic’s recipe, but know you will run out and need to visit beautiful Croatia in order to find a sampling of the many delicious varieties and combinations. Plus, you will want to pair it with Croatian’s other farm to table delicacies like wine, cheese and olive oil to experience Ajvar at its finest! For those looking for the next great culinary treat, Ajvar (and Croatia’s other gastronomic delights) is a MUST!

Want to experience Ajvar in Croatia for yourself?  Explore the Edible Destinations of Croatia on our website.

Customer Reviews

Yucatán was great!PicMonkey Collage

The whole experience at Hacienda Petac was totally satisfying. I recommend it highly. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place. The villa itself has been restored impeccably, the rooms are elegant and luxurious, and the grounds are spectacular. Filled with lush tropical foliage. The cooking classes were fun, the food was good, the service impeccable.

I was there for a week long “culinary adventure” put together by Epitourean.com. These adventures are perfect for a woman traveling alone. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, you make lots of new friends and never feel left out or awkward because you’re not traveling with a partner.

All in all, a great experience, and I intend to do more of these. – Mickey

Abruzzo Amore 

My daugabruzzo2hter and I took the Abruzzo area tour a few weeks ago and I must say, this was one of the best vacations I have ever been on!

We met some wonderful people, the tours were fantastic, the chef was great. From the Bell factory to the wine tasting at the winery, to the wonderful cheese factory…..I cannot say how much this all was enjoyed.

Never lacked for fantastic food, wine or friendships, I am ready to take another Epitourean trip!!!! – Barb

 

Santa Fe Raves

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Just wanted to let you know that Stephanie and I has a FANTASTIC time in Santa Fe! We were given a huge condo at Ft. Marcy with our own bedrooms and baths. Such a nice surprise and bonus!

The Foodie Tour was awesome and much more than we expected! Delicious foods and a fun friendly guide!!!

Our dinner was FABULOUS!!!! Wow! We enjoyed the beautiful ambience, excellent service and of course, the gourmet food!

We can’t rave enough about our Epitourean experience. Thank you! – Diann & Stephanie

Greek Gemista

Gemista, meaning “stuffed with” in Greek, is a traditional recipe in the style of Ladera, or “prepared with olive oil.” A dish like this requires the cook to break out the good stuff—quality extra virgin olive oil will intensify the flavor. Though the traditional preparation doesn’t call for butter, a helpful secret is to add just a bit inside the Gemista before stuffing. In-season tomatoes are the choicest ingredient, but Gemista can be delicious when it features eggplants and peppers or even courgettes. This melt-in-the mouth Greek delicacy is best served with a block of salty feta cheese and lots of bread. Opa!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 8 tomatoes
  • 4 green bell peppers
  • 1-2 eggplants
  • 5-6 potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 18 ounces rice (for risotto)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • a small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • a small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon of butter
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • 8 ounces beef mince (optional)

**Start by thoroughly washing your vegetables.

  1. Slice off the top of the tomatoes, using a spoon remove the flesh and keep it in a bowl. Slice off the top of the eggplants and remove the flesh, using a spoon. Cut the flesh of the eggplants in small cubes and set aside. Slice off the top of the peppers and remove the seeds and white parts from the inside. Place the empty vegetables on a large baking tray. Try to leave the vegetables as thin as possible, leaving just a little flesh, but be careful not to poke through their skin.
  2. Season the empty vegetables with a pinch of salt and sugar and add a little butter on the bottom of each one.
  3. Prepare the sauce for the Gemista. In a blender, add the flesh of the tomatoes, 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil, the tomato puree, sugar, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the filling for the Gemista. In a saucepan, add some olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Chop the zucchini in small cubes, add to the saucepan and sauté for one more minute. Add the flesh of the eggplants (chopped) and the chopped garlic and sauté until softened. Add the rice and continue sautéing unit it becomes translucent. Pour in 1 tin chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. As soon as the liquid has been absorbed, the stuffing is ready.
  5. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the fresh herbs.
  6. Meat Variation: If you prefer your Gemista spiced up with some meat, try sizzling ground beef with the onions in the step above.
  7. Assemble the Gemista. Spoon the filling inside the empty vegetables and place the potatoes, cut into pieces, in between the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and pour the tomato sauce over the vegetables and in the baking tray. Cover the vegetables with their lids and add 2-3 glasses of water.
  8. Cover the Gemista with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees for 60-75 minutes. Halfway through cooking time remove the aluminum foil and bake until nicely colored.
  9. Serve either warm or straight out of the fridge, paired with salty feta cheese.

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Mastered this recipe? Show off your skills and learn some more on our Athens & Aegina Culinary Aventure! 

Huevos de Camote Recipe

Recipe courtesy of Señora Estela Salas Silva, of Casa Carmelita in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Huevos de Camote  (Sweet Potato Dessert) is a traditional Pueblan recipe used in the Day of the Dead ofrenda (offering table). During the Día de los Muertos holiday, an ofrenda is created in the home to welcome back family members who have died. Offerings typically include sweets and favorite meals, tequila or other liquor, images of the deceased and of various saints, candles, marigolds and more.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes or 1 large purple camote
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Ground cinnamon
  • ½  to 1 shot rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon orange rind
  • 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Boil the sweet potatoes until soft. Then peel and mash them.

2. In a saucepan, put 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until slightly thickened.

3. Add the sweet potatoes, rum, vanilla and orange rind to the sugar syrup and keep stirring until thick and pasty and bottom of pan comes clean. Turn off the heat and keep stirring.

4. Place the mixture in another bowl to cool.

5. When the mixture has cooled, use your hands to form small egg shapes.

6. Roll the egg shapes in a mixture of nuts and cinnamon to coat them then roll in powdered sugar.

7. Wrap each individual egg in colorful tissue paper and twist the ends.

Ready to make this and other traditional Día de los Muertos recipes? Click here to check out our Day of the Dead Pueblan Culinary Holiday, currently 50%!

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Epitourean’s Friday Five: Santa Fe, New Mexico

It’s once again time for a look at the top five things we love about a city on our radar. This week we travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, home to great eats, stunning natural beauty and world class art.

1. At the top of our list are the luxurious Fort Marcy Condo Suites. Spacious and well-appointed, with an authentic southwest vibe, our Santa Fe travelers will rest their heads here in comfort and style.

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2. San Miguel Chapel, which is the oldest church in the United States. Not only can you visit the chapel to take in the history and learn more about the Tlaxcalan Indians who constructed it, San Miguel Chapel also provides Mass in Latin and English.

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3.  The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is the only museum in the US dedicated solely to a female artist, houses over 3,000 pieces of mixed media art. Visitors can enjoy O’Keeffe’s cityscapes from New York along with gorgeous New Mexican landscapes, and other brilliant pieces of work focused on the natural world.

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4.  History buffs will enjoy the Santa Fe Palace of Governors, part of a the larger New Mexico History Museum, where one can learn all about Santa Fe, New Mexico and the greater southwest area.

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5.  Taking in all that culture will make you thirsty! Popular and centrally located in downtown Santa Fe, Coyote Cafe & Rooftop Cantina is the perfect place to cap off a day of exploration. Hit the rooftop bar for refreshing drinks and inventive takes on Southwest cuisine.

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Have we whetted your appetite for a trip to Santa Fe? Click here to learn more and book our Southwestern Foodie Fiesta culinary getaway, 50% off for a limited time!

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GREAT GUACAMOLE Recipe

Recipe courtesy of Chef John “Johnny Vee” Vollertsen of Las Cosas Cooking School

When you come to Santa Fe on our Southwestern Foodie Fiesta, Chef Johnny Vee will take you through all the tips and techniques you need to create a masterful southwestern meal. His hands-on Flavors of New Mexico cooking class is one of the most popular in the area, and will truly open your eyes to the magic of Santa Fe’s cuisine.

Take enchiladas to the next level with Johnny Vee's cooking class.

Take enchiladas to the next level with Johnny Vee’s cooking class.

 

In the meantime, though, get a little taste of the southwest with this simply delicious recipe for Great–not just good–Guacamole!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 ripe haas avocados
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 roma tomato, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large jalapeño, minced
  • 2 scallions, fine chopped white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped

1. Halve and pit avocados. Scoop out flesh into medium bowl. Using two dinner knives cross cut avocados into small 1/2 inch pieces.

2. Add lime juice, salt, and garlic and mix slightly.

3. Fold in tomato, onion, scallions, jalapeño and cilantro.

4. Cover guacamole with plastic wrap that has been pressed right onto the surface of the avocado and refrigerate. This will keep it from browning for up to three days.

5. Enjoy with an ice cold margarita!

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Ready to learn more? Click here to check out our Southwestern Foodie Fiesta, 50% off for a limited time!

Postcard From: Yucatán, Mexico

Read all about Mary’s culinary journey through Yucatán, Mexico:

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“Today is sadly my last day at the amazing Hacienda Petac in Mexico’s breathtaking Yucatan. It has been such an extraordinary experience! We helped to prepare delicious meals. Of course all of the produce and ingredients were so fresh and amazing, and we teamed up with the hotel chefs and staff to cook up a storm. Everything is so colorful and pretty. We’ve also been visiting many of Mexico’s stunning sights. One of the highlights was Merida’s market, which was lively and bustling and we also saw some of of the area’s Mayan archeological ruins. Rope hammocks are strung everywhere at the Hacienda Petac, which we took advantage of when we went to simply chill out and nap. We are also making good use of the hotel’s open air spa, which looks out over lush green gardens and is such a beautiful experience to be a part of while you’re having a massage. Tonight we bid farewell with the music of the Trova Trio on the hotel’s terrace under the stars. We’ve gotten to know that, here in paradise, romance is everywhere and we will certainly return.” 

-Mary from Colombus, Ohio

Jealous of Mary? Check out this 2 for 1 deal on our Culinary Adventure through the Heart of the Yucatán!

Postcard From Italy

Those who travel with us at Edible Destinations tend to leave with great memories and thoughts about their journey. We love getting feedback from our intrepid voyagers. Here, Susan from South Carolina, sent us a postcard of her recent visit to Carunchio, Italy.

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“We are simply having a blast. The cooking adventure is everything we thought it might be and more than we imagined. This is a journey that I we will repeat and bring friends along to experience. The ancient villages here are stunning. You have no idea what it’s like, unless you visit, to stay in a palatial hotel on top of a green mountain. The views are spectacular and I am so happy that I brought my fancy camera to capture all of this beauty. To top it off, the cooking classes are so fun! I am a vegetarian, but everything that we’ve made so far is simple, delicious and entertaining. Obviously, the food is to die for in Italy, and the wine is so incredible. I am in heaven. We’ve taken trips to the countryside and visited artisans that press gorgeous olive oils. What haven’t we done? We saw fresh cheese being made and visited a bell foundry. Who get’s to see things like this? We are so thankful that we booked this tour and are more than a little bit sad to leave this beautiful place.” 

-Susan

Would you like to share your Edible Adventures with us? Visit us on Facebook and tell us about your journey, or post your pictures on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook tagged with #MyEdibleDestination for a chance to win a $500 Gift Card!

The Dish: Chef Alan Pyles Talks About Virginia’s Culinary Delights

Our Chef partner, Alan Pyles, fills us in on eating and living it up in the state of Virginia. 

Q: Chef Alan, what would you consider Virginian cuisine? Is there such a thing?

A: Since Virginia is essentially in the central east coast of the United States, you can find just about anything. We like to focus on southern cuisine. Spice friendly meats and seafood. The influences that we notice in Virginia’s cuisine come from New Orleans, Charleston and Maryland (thank you Old Bay!)

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Q: We were curious what your favorite local ingredients are, especially those one would find on your daily menus?

A: Our focus is about sourcing the best proteins that we can find as a way to anchor any dish that we create. We look for local, seasonal produce to always complement our dishes. But that said, the core of our menu hasn’t changed much over the years because we’ve developed a following of customers who come in because they love and expect our classics. That said, we do run specials and this is always an opportunity for us to create new plates with whatever is local and seasonal.

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Q: What do you love most about Virginia?

A: This may sound like a cliche, but I really love that we have four seasons. Each season is awesome in my opinion, and one always allows me to appreciate the next. We’re a state known for our colorful foliage but also for the starkness of our winters, which I find beautiful. Then obviously I adore the fresh growth of spring and we have the hottest summers; perfect for frequent rafting and canoeing on the many rivers in our beautiful state.

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Q: We know you have a great passion for cooking and you just mentioned some outdoor activities in the summer months. What are some of the favorite outdoor sports that you like to do with family and friends or even alone?

A: Well, as I mentioned before, I simply love being outside in central Virginia. We are less than 10 minutes from the world renowned Skyline Drive, which provides travelers with some of the east coast’s most spectacular views. Also, I love our local historical sights like Monticello and Montpelier. Local vineyards are some of our best attractions too. Wine tasting is after all a part of my job, and I owe it to my guests to stay informed.

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Want to taste what Chef Alan is cooking at the Lafayette Inn? Check out our Chef for a Day package, an exclusive weekend of food and drink like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

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Hungry? Click here for one of Chef’s special recipes and give it a go!