Posts Tagged ‘risotto’

Cooking done with passion is an act of love. – Tammy Mollai


July 2012

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Last year, during our honeymoon in Eastern Europe, Jonathan and I got the pleasure of spending a day of shopping, cooking, and dining with the passionate chef, Tatjana Ciciliani. Of all of our adventures on this trip, this is the one that we will cherish and remember forever. For more details on how we found Tatjana check out my post, The Secret to Traveling in Croatia.

The Kitchen. The heart and soul of a home.

Deep within the walls of a 13 century palace, lies a kitchen. Not just any ordinary kitchen but one that is so full of love and passion that this incredible warmth spills out into the streets and entrances passersby. This kitchen, unlike any kitchen I have ever had the pleasure of entering, has its own pulse. It beats with energy yet is soothing and slows time which can easily make you forget that hours have passed and you’ve created enough food to feed a village. This kitchen belongs to Tatjana Ciciliani. A brilliant chef, a culinary artist, a mother, a wife, a friend to everyone. A passionate, loving, and joyful woman whom has changed the way I will forever view cooking and whose influence I will never be able to fully capture in words.

Tatjana is the type of person you meet for the first time and you immediately wish you had known forever. Her kindness and joy of life is simply contagious. After spending a day with her, you will not only be incredibly inspired but you will also feel as if you just traveled deep into the core of Croatia. I learned more about the Croatian culture in this single experience than I could have ever imagined.

Lessons Learned. More than a recipe.

Rather than write the specifics of our trip to the markets, what we bought and what we cooked, I feel drawn to share our experience through the lessons I learned while cooking with Tatjana.

  • Make use of all your senses. Taste is only one aspect of selecting ingredients to cook. Investigate everything, pick things up, feel them, smell them, listen and talk to the vendors. Buying quality, in-season and local ingredients will not only yield a better dish but will also bring you closer to your land and your community.
  • Waste nothing. Unless it’s an old cucumber…it goes in the stock! Or somewhere else equally important like infusing salt! I can’t remember how many times I almost discarded what seemed like a useless peel or the top of an onion and was caught by Tatjana. It was like she had eyes in the back of her head! I had no idea how easy it was to make use of every single bit. Why have I been so wasteful? I was astonished by how many items seemed disposable moments before suddenly transformed into something totally new and delicious. Fish bones, onion tops, stems of herbs, soggy old vegetables, extra flour from bread making…
  • Don’t rush. Be patient. Slow down and enjoy the process. I don’t remember one timer being set. We cooked for hours, yet somehow the morning and afternoon blended into one magnificent experience. We had pots and pots of items boiling away, bread rising, fish waiting to be descaled while out in the blazing sun…and not once did we ever rush or worry about time. I’ve never felt so nourished physically and mentally after a meal.
  • Buy wholesome food to feed the people you love. Not one item we used was from a can or a box. Every item was traceable to the earth or the sea…not a factory.
  • Make what you love and love what you make. Everything tastes better when you’ve created it from your heart.

The Gallery. From market to belly.

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for an appetizer

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for us to try

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

The final cheese plate

You know you want a bite, don’t you!?

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

Loving the denim apron!

Loving the denim apron!

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan...haha!

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan…haha!

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Happily chopping along...

Happily chopping along…

Teamwork in the kitchen!

Teamwork in the kitchen!

We got all this going on and more...risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

We got all this going on and more…risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

My turn!

My turn!

Working with the cuttlefish...

Working with the cuttlefish…

Ready to fry!

Ready to fry!

Frying sardines

Frying sardines

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

My favorite dish - cuttlefish risotto!  And not just because I got to watch Jonathan burst all the ink sacs...

My favorite dish – cuttlefish risotto! And not just because I got to watch Jonathan cut all the ink sacs…

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Setting the table...notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away...they found a home in the water pitcher

Setting the table…notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away…they found a home in the water pitcher

Packages!  Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Packages! Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Dessert!  I wish I could remember what was in this - Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was an delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with an very talented and charming woman!

Dessert! I wish I could remember what was in this – Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was a delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with a very talented and charming woman!

Jonathan and I learned so much in such a short amount of time. We have a better understanding of Croatian cuisine and of the wonderful people we met along the way. I no longer waste so much food and have jars upon jars of herb-infused salts for cooking, my freezer is full of homemade veggie and chicken stock, and my enthusiasm in the kitchen grows with every meal I prepare with Jonathan. We are forever grateful for this one-of-a-kind experience.

Much love to Tatjana and her family for welcoming us into their home.

xoxo, Miranda


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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine


July 22 – 24, 2012

Choosing Croatia for our Honeymoon

Several years ago, shortly after getting engaged, Jonathan and I were out to dinner and having a lovely conversation with our waiter. He had traveled throughout the world and was inquiring about where we thought we would go for our honeymoon. At this point, we had tossed around many ideas but hadn’t given it considerable thought. Loving his personality and his traveling spirit, we asked him as he was walking away from our table to think of any place in the world that he’s been that would be the perfect honeymoon spot. He seemed to brighten up and bounce off with joy in helping us decide on a place.

He came back a few minutes later with a big smile, announcing that he had the perfect place. Croatia. We were intrigued. We knew very little about Croatia and as curious as we are, we knew he might be on to something. He explained that is was the most romantic place he has ever been with a coastline that rivals Italy yet better because it is less touched by tourism. Several hours and google searches later we were fairly certain that Croatia would be our honeymoon destination.

One of our best decisions ever. Stunning. Romantic. Peaceful. Charming. Relaxing. Fulfilling.

C R O A T I A  I S  F O R  L O V E R S !

Croatia Itinerary

We spent a week in Croatia but this post is only dedicated to the time we spent in Split as well as a morning/afternoon in Trogir. In case you’re interested in other cities, here’s our itinerary.

Split/Trogir – 2 nights, 2 days

Vis Island – 3 nights, 3 days

Zagreb – 2 nights, 1 day

Split: Day One

My first impression…not so good. From the moment our driver dropped us off by the port in Split I thought I just arrived in the land of annoying tourists. Every inch surrounding me was a souvenir stand or a cafe touting prices that rival New York. This was not what I was expecting. Luckily, by evening my impression had changed and I was beginning to see the beauty in this city.

Our hotel, and as a matter of fact – almost everything we had planned in Croatia, had been hand-picked and booked by an amazing, brilliant and interesting man, Alan Mandic (founder of Secret Dalmatia). I look forward to revealing how we came about working with Alan in another post but for now, what you need to know is that he found us an amazing place to stay and planned two of the most memorable experiences of our honeymoon.

Hotel Peristil

Hotel Peristil within the Diocletian Palace

Hotel Peristil has 12 rooms. It is intimate and it’s located within the Diocletian Palace. The location perfect. The service very attentive but not overly so. The downside is that the air-conditioning and the beds are not up to par. But who cares! If you travel to Croatia and plan to spend your time inside your room then you deserve to be uncomfortable. Best part of this hotel, other than the location…you can hear the Dalmatian folk singing in the open terraces along the palace from your room. At night, there’s almost always an artist performing at the main square just a few feet from Hotel Peristil. Open your windows and enjoy the music while you are preparing to go out for the evening!

After getting settled into our room we grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant, Tifani, then set out to explore before a scheduled wine tasting in the evening.

Jonathan enjoying a brew and seafood salad at Tifani…perfect choice for the hot and humid weather.

In typical Miranda fashion, I chose a plate of local cheese with Croatian wine. This is paski sir, a creamy and well-balanced sheep’s milk cheese from the Island of Pag. Get this in Croatia…it’s easy to find and why miss out – it won the prestigious Barber Award and was named the Word’s Best New Cheese in 2010.

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista

This is the point when my perception began to change. We had a wine tasting booked at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista. Our driver came to pick us up and took us just outside of the palace walls. Once we arrived we realized we could have easily walked.  Although the drive was short, we got a quick introduction to the city outside of the palace walls.  Our driver introduced us to the expert of Croatian wines, at least in my opinion. The man behind it all, Igor Beros. A very intelligent and friendly man. Connoisseur of wines and pop culture. A great conversationalist and several hours later…a friend. I didn’t want to leave. No, this is not the wine speaking through months later. I swear. Go here and you will see for yourself!

Over the course of about three hours, Igor offered us about 5 wines to taste.  We learned about Croatian wine, wine-making in general and how to distinguish the age and quality of a wine by sight and smell.  We were not always this civilized…at some point we were discussing South Park and funny British television.  In fact, by the end of the tasting we were both calling Igor, Croatian Dave…in honor of our friend whom we sometimes refer to as British Dave.  Both men endearing, funny, tall as hell and owners of the most obscure knowledge of random things.  In short, we loved Igor like a friend.

The wine we tasted greatly varied.  We got a taste of a few young and old wines.  Bold, elegant and light varieties.  All of this came with some of the best anchovies I’ve ever had.  I’m saddened that I’m unsure if I will ever get them as good as those again.  I ate all of mine on the tasting board and Igor quietly slipped away for a moment to bring out a heaping plate full to keep me going.  I was, for a moment, embarrassed.  That lasted only until I had another  bite and then about 10 more…why try to hide my appetite and gluttonous spirit?  I’m all about embracing it these days…

Us and Igor at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista!

Enjoying a toast together!

The tasting board…before I demolish it!

On our way out Jonathan and I decided to buy two bottles of our favorite from the tasting and one that we could drink in five years on our anniversary.  After talking about the beauty of an aged wine, we set Igor to the task of finding a wine that would be perfect for opening after 5 years.  He jumped to the task like a joyous schoolboy!  Very cute!  He walked around his cellar deep in thoughts until he found the perfect one.  Now our task – be patient and wait before opening!  As we were walking out with our goods, Igor gave us a gift as a honeymoon present…he told us that we would have to try it and tell him what it is – the flavor was a surprise and something of a local treat!  We’ve yet to open this bottle.  It’s kind of like unwrapping a gift slowly to save the suspense.  It sits beautifully upon our counter as a reminder of an amazing Croatian evening.  I know all too well that we will open this sooner rather than later and I look forward to contacting him in regards to our best guess!

First Croatian Dinner

After indulging in the hearty cuisines of Czech Republic and Hungary, we were so excited to try Croatian food.  I can say, it was a welcome surprise.  Much lighter in comparison to the previous countries and still full of flavor!  After leaving our wine tasting and really not very hungry, we still found ourselves back in the palace walls and sitting down to dinner.

Using Trip Advisor as our dining guide, we headed to Trattoria Bajamonte.   This restaurant sits inside the palace and is a bit hard to find.  With tables spread out in a few streets just wide enough to walk down in twos, and no restaurant sign or kitchen to be found, you can easily miss this place.  We luckily happened to read a cork board by some tables and noticed that the handwritten menu was in fact for the restaurant we were looking for.  We happily set down and ordered what we read would be a very local/typical dinner.  We shared a plate of mussels and I went for the seafood risotto while Jonathan got the fish with potatoes and swiss chard.  Delicious!!!

Seafood risotto…a bit soupy but seriously good!

Fish with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs with a side of swiss chard and potatoes

The Art of Manliness

As we were finishing up our last bites it began to rain.  This is when officially, without any doubt, Split won me over.  After hiding from the first few minutes of drizzle we headed back to our hotel.  If you are like me, a good rain storm is more romantic than most other imaginable things…gifts, cards, snuggles, poems or what have you.  Stand outside in the rain with the one you love and walk side by side like it’s a sunny day and instantly my heart becomes all gooey…and girly.  The palace is confusing with hard to find, let alone read, street signs coupled by the fact that the streets look all too similar to not feel like you are walking in circles.  I was swooned by Split and by the man holding my hand and running along with me to the next overhang or archway.  I found so much beauty in this moment that I don’t think I spoke much…at least that’s how I remember it.

Hiding from the drizzle at the end of dinner

Trogir & Split:  Day Two

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

My obsession with taking a cooking class while traveling all stems from one day several years ago…in Thailand.  The quick version of the story (yes Jonathan, I can tell a quick story)…we were traveling with our friends, Dave and Alex.  It was our second full day in Chiang Mai and we had planned a day long cooking class.  I was stoked!  Thai food ranks among my favorite.  Although extremely tired, I remembered to set my alarm.  Unfortunately to the wrong time zone.  I woke Dave and Alex up twice, the first only hours after we all went to bed…Dave was nice about my mistake and stumbled back in bed.  I reset my alarm and was still wrong…just a few hours later, I woke them again, all ready for the class.  We still had at least two hours before we needed to be up.  He wasn’t laughing at my mistake a second time.  Jonathan and I went back to bed.  This time…Jonathan and I did not get up.  The intermittent sleep and jet lag got the best of us.  We stayed in bed while Dave and Alex went off to learn the fine art of Thai cooking.  I finally awoke in the late afternoon…this time angry that I missed out.

So, in preparing for our honeymoon, I knew we had to give a cooking class another try.  One thing that I didn’t know…it was going to be one of the most special days of our trip.

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing Tatjana is.  What I can say for sure and in the most simplest terms – she is passionate, kind, interesting, and above all,  one damn good cook.  In the few hours that we got to know her I felt a connection.  She is warm and funny with such a good spirit, a person who can make anyone feel at home and at ease…even with a cleaver in her hand.

Our day of cooking in Trogir with Tatjana must have its own post.  I look forward to sharing every detail no matter how small.  But here’s a peek for now!

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

Jonathan and Tatjana prepping the fish…

Risotto, fish stock, fried sardines, and bread rising…just a few of the things we had going on!

Diocletian’s Palace

After our morning and afternoon with Tatjana, Jonathan and I headed back to Split for an official tour of Diocletian’s Palace.  I’m no history buff but I certainly loved the tour.  Our tour guide, a young vibrant Croatian woman, gathered us up at the port and took us for a walk through the palace.  One of the first things she told us was, “if you get bored or tired, I’ll take you to a fun bar for a pit stop”.  How could you not love her?!  After a huge meal, sitting down to a glass of wine and relaxing sounded great but her enthusiasm and love for history bled through.  Off we gladly went for a tour!

Unfortunately, my mind only recalls details of things that I’m passionate about…history, not so much.  So I have to say, all I have of this tour is my photographs.  If you’re looking for information about Diocletian’s Palace…google it.

A model of the palace…see how easy it can be to get lost here!

Narrowest street in Split – appropriately named, Pusti Me Da Prodjem (translation: Let me pass)

Grgur Ninski Statue – touch his toe for good luck!

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument – pretty cool that many people have homes within..

Near the monumental court and our hotel…

Rakija – National Drink of Croatia

At the end of our tour, our guide introduced us to rakija.  Rakija is a popular Croatian drink, similar to brandy, and is often taken just before dinner or on your way out for the evening.  As our tour came to an end and we were headed to the bar, we stopped at Rakijarnica to try out our first rakija and to toast to an amazing evening.

Best tour guide ever!

Rakijarnica (within Diocletian’s Palace) – loads of choices for flavors…we went for the sour cherry

Ghetto Club for drinks! A very bohemian and artsy bar with more locals than tourists…photo courtesy of Time Out Croatia (my camera died by this point in the evening)

On to Vis

On the morning of our third day, we awoke with excitement to begin a new adventure on Vis Island.  We enjoyed our time in Split but were ready for something more….beach, good food and relaxing?  Yes!

View of Split from the ferry to Vis

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