How to save money on your New Zealand trip

As you’re planning your upcoming trip to New Zealand, you’ve noticed there are a ton of blogs, articles, and recommendations for tour guides. It’s probably a trip like you’ve never planned for or researched before. At least that’s how it was for us.  I’ll be sharing some thoughts on this specifically in a different post, but wanted to focus this one on saving money when planning your trip, especially if you’re going anytime in December thru February. This time frame is their peak season and most expensive time of year to travel throughout the country.

  • Most likely you’ll be driving via RV, Camper Van, SUV, or car for the trip. Unless you plan on sleeping, showering, and driving in your vehicle, you don’t need a camper van. The car or SUV option is the cheapest and honestly the easiest to maneuver the crazy New Zealand roads.  We splurged on an SUV but still saved $800 on not getting an RV or camper. The SUV allowed us the option to sleep in it if necessary, spread out luggage and groceries, and even have room to air dry clean laundry when needed.

    Camping at Mt. Cook with our favorite SUV of the trip

  • Get a diesel vs petrol rental car. You will save several hundred dollars in gas with the amount of driving you will be doing. We racked up over 3500 miles in three weeks. We had a diesel car the first two weeks on the South Island and only filled up 2 1/2 times. We were stuck with petrol car on the North Island and noticed IMMEDIATELY the difference. We ended up having to stop for gas every 2 days to make sure we weren’t going to get stranded anywhere. Diesel will save you money in the long run and time trying to find a gas station.
  • Book Direct as often as you can for the currency exchange rate. When we were there in December 2016, the conversion rate ranged between .67-.69 US cents to 1 NZD.  When you book “direct” (vs an online travel agency like Expedia or Priceline) at a hotel or campsite, you’re booking in NZD and thus saving money.  We learned the hard way when we booked last minute in Te Anau on Hotwire and thought we were saving money. We found out once we checked in that if we had booked direct we would have paid in NZD vs USD and could have saved over $80 for the night. The same went for booking months in advance via Airbnb for our Christmas and New Year lodging.

    A few things to note about Expedia, Hotwire, and Airbnb regarding lodging:

    • Hotwire only charges in USD, even if you’re trying to book in another country. While traveling in some countries, this may be the cheaper option. However, this approach will cost you more in New Zealand
    • Unlike Hotwire, Airbnb knows your home country via your account so regardless of what country you’re in, they’ll still charge you in USD
    • If you book via expedia.co.nz the reward points do not sync to your expedia.com (US site) account. If you try to have them reward you, they’ll have you call Expedia NZ and you still won’t get rewarded since their systems don’t connect.
  • Since you’re driving, book the cheapest option for the Milford Sound Overnight Cruise, directly on their site, for $308 NZ.  This means you’re going to drive to Milford Sound versus getting picked up in Queenstown ($410 NZD or $809 NZD) or Te Anau ($389 NZD). Not only is it cheaper, but it gives you time to make the drive at your own pace and pull over for photos at your leisure. We suggest getting there at least an hour early to explore, go on the educational walk, and relax before your overnight cruise starts. Also, when you book direct you don’t have to pay for parking. WOOT!
  • Book popular activities like Hobbiton Evening Banquet Tour and Milford Sound Overnight Cruises at least six months in advance. Hobbiton adds two more nights a week for their Evening Banquet Tours to support Christmas and New Year crowds.  Still, plan to book in advance. We purchased our tickets in July for a December Tour and there only a few dates to choose from.

    The Shire at Hobbiton

  • The local grocery store is your best friend. You’ll be on the road for hours at a time, and unlike the US there’s not a lot of places to stop and grab a bite to eat. Make sure to stock up on apples, bananas, oranges, trail mix, bread, and peanut butter for easy breakfasts and lunches. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also save time. The latter will help you get to your final destination faster.  For dinners, we had salads, pasta, fajitas, and freezer dried food I brought with us from the US. We planned to do a lot of camping and wasn’t sure how easy it was to get freezer dried food in New Zealand. To be on the safe side, I brought 8 meals with us. That said, NZ is a country who LOVES the outdoors and they are prepared. You can get freezer dried food easily at any grocery or outdoor store ($11-12 NZD which is approx $8-9USD).

    We were able to cram 8 freezer dried meals, 12 trail mix bars, granola, gummy bears, and beef jerky with us along with our camping and hiking gear in our checked luggage

  • Camp as much as possible. If you’re thinking about camping and bringing your camping gear, commit fully. It’s safe to assume that if you’re visiting New Zealand you’re going to be outdoors doing fun stuff like hiking, camping, swimming, kayaking, etc. And if you need even more incentive New Zealand campsites are amazing, clean, and cheap! It only cost us $128 for the both of us to camp for six nights in a row throughout the South Island. If we had camped for the entire trip we could have saved over $1200! Yes, you read that right.  $1200!! Honestly, we struggled with how to prepare for this part of the trip and just couldn’t figure out if we’d get access to showers, laundry, etc, especially around Christmas and New Years. We ended up with a range of accommodations from tent camping to Airbnb homes to hotels, with a secured place to do laundry and shower every few days. This approach was super expensive and I wouldn’t recommend it. Looking back on this, if we had committed to tent camping we could have saved a lot of money and enjoyed ourselves just as much. Most sites have showers, even clean and fully stocked kitchens. Figure out your approach and commit fully. Your wallet will thank you. It will also make it easy to pack and unpack since you only have one option. We were constantly having to repack and reassess what we needed as our sleeping accommodations were constantly changing.

    Gillespie Beach, South Island, New Zealand $8 pp/night to tent camp

    We loved our trip to New Zealand and can’t wait to go back. However, next time we’ll be smarter with our lodging accommodations.

    Have money-saving travel tips to share? We’d love to know!

Observations of New Zealand, through the eyes of a Hawaiian

I’m born and bred from a place that is blessed with year round 80 degree weather, sunshine, golden beaches, beautiful history, and the best food in the world. I love you Hawaii. You’d think I’d be used to jaw-dropping scenery since I grew up in the islands around beautiful people and gorgeous sunsets. Yeeaaahhhh, well let me just tell you that New Zealand has an ace up it’s sleeve. I was speechless for most of our trip and here are a few reasons why, along with some other observations of our three weeks in this beautiful country.

The people. Kiwis are truly happy people. They are genuinely thrilled you are visiting their country. They are proud of their culture and heritage, and want you to experience as much of it as possible. This was a shock to me especially coming from Hawaii. Hawaii survives off of tourism and yet there is a tension between locals (caveat, not all), who resent the dependency on tourists for survival. I expected, almost assumed we’d get some of that tension from the locals but never did. It was completely refreshing.

The South Island is better.  The South Island reminds me of the outer islands back home; where it’s quieter and a bit more quaint compared to Waikiki or downtown. I’ve heard this time and time again that the South Island is so much more beautiful and relaxing. After spending two weeks on the South Island and one week on the North Island, I’d have to agree. Despite a handful of amazing things on the North, like Hobbiton, we kept wishing we were back with nature and less traffic. If you’re thinking of what island to spend more time on, think the South!

Beautiful lupins throughout the South Island, New Zealand

The roads are insane. Coming from the US, even Hawaii, I was shocked. The entire country’s roads is a one lane road in each direction, with hairpin turns, and hills where you can’t see what’s coming ahead or below you.  At times, it felt like driving on the road to Hana in Maui. Not all roads, but enough had me holding my breath or catching some shut eye while the hubby drove. It doesn’t help that you’re driving on the left side of the road, the driver is in the right side of the car, and your signals are where your windwipers are so when you want to pass someone your wipers are going crazy. Because of this, it takes so much longer to get to your final destination. Thank goodness locals and tourists have the whole passing lane down to a science. Everyone follows and respects it, especially the speed limit. #fistbump

Scenery is bomb dot com. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, and will leave you completely speechless.  Every hill you climb, turn you make will lead you to even more amazing views. And you keep thinking…”It can’t get better than this! Can it!?!?!” And it does. Over and over and over again.  The scenery changes as you drive with rolling hills and adorable sheep to steep mountains and thousands of waterfalls. We have gorgeous scenery in Hawaii, but nothing like this. Hands down, New Zealand wins.

On the way to Milford Sound

Minimal advertising and commercialism. This is a breath of fresh air. You don’t even realize how much you’re bombarded with ads from companies trying to sell you shit you don’t need until you go to NZ. Companies in NZ are prohibited from putting up advertising billboards on the side of the road, forcing you to pay attention to driving (novel idea) and the gorgeous scenery. The only road side adverts you’ll see are state run ones that encourage you to take a break if you’re tired and share the driving with a friend.
That said, there are only three anomalies to this observation; Queenstown, Wellington, and Auckland. These are the largest cities and thus have been influenced heavily by advertising and marketing. It is complete assault on your eyes and ears when you come into these cities and completely overwhelms you. After not seeing so many adverts for days on end, your senses become more sensitive to it. It’s difficult to describe, but can only suggest you keep your stays to these cities to a minimum.  Besides everything you need in these cities you can get back home. And let’s be honest, that top or pants you are thinking of buying…you didn’t need it backpacking through the Abel Tasman so why do you need it now?

Towns are quaint. But if you blink, you might miss it. This sounds harsh and I don’t mean it to be.  I appreciated the fact that these towns weren’t commercialized or trying to sell themselves. It was truly a NZ town, doing their own thing, without a care in the world who visited and who stayed. Honestly, it was quite romantic and authentic. After being in a car for hours on end, with limited days to explore, you have to pick and choose what you want to spend your time on.  Not all towns are like this, but many of them are small, so you need to be choosey on where you end up exploring.

Rough water. Growing up in Hawaii and relocating to the PNW, my experience with water has been smooth sailing until this trip. Some chop here, some chop there. The beach has been like bath water, nothing to write home about. However, because NZ is so far south, the water is cold, rough and choppy, even on gorgeous days. It made me appreciate mother nature even more. Be prepared and don’t under estimate the waves or currents. It will literally take your breathe away.

Environmentally obsessed. Because New Zealand is an island, they are sticklers for recycling and reusing everything. It reminded me of the PNW because we too are super passionate about caring for the environment. Knowing others in the world care just as much about our world and the impact we have on it was an awesome experience and connection throughout our trip.  In addition, the Kiwis are passionate about their land, oceans, and animals. I’ve never experienced first hand the success of government, non profits groups, and private groups working together towards a common goal, like saving native plants and animal species, and seeing success from it. I can only hope the US, especially Hawaii can learn from the Kiwis. They’re doing something right and it shows.

I’ll be sharing more about our trip, recos, and advice in the coming weeks. In the meantime, while the US is covered with snow and freezing temps, New Zealand is just getting ramped up on their summer season with warm weather and sunshine. Air New Zealand is running a great sale on RT tickets through Jan 10th. Book a ticket and start defrosting today.  

 

Christmas Markets 101

A few years ago we made a spontaneous decision to head to Paris for Christmas and the New Year.  Originally we were a bit hesitant about the idea since it was our first time traveling away from family and traditions during the holiday seasons.  We may have also gotten some flack from our family too. However, it was one of the best decisions we made and highly recommend it. Experiencing a different culture, people, and food, especially during a festive time of year has become a family tradition for Kyle and I. It didn’t hurt that we fell in love with Christmas markets and mulled wine.  Why the US doesn’t embrace hot mulled wine as our European friends baffles us, especially when it’s just as bloody cold here as it is there. I digress. Back to visiting other countries during the holidays.

This year we decided to visit one of the top 10 Christmas markets in the world, Vienna, Austria. We tacked on Prague and Budapest because we’ve always wanted to go there and they’re relatively close to Vienna, so it just made sense. Plus they both have Christmas markets and hot mulled wine. It was a no brainer. It was a whirlwind of a two week trip and I’ll be sharing more of our experiences in each city, especially the food and drink, but first wanted to share a few things if you are planning an an entire trip based around Christmas markets, like what we did.

Christmas Market in Starmoestke namesti, Prague.

Christmas Market in Starmoestke namesti, Prague.

1. Not all countries are as organized as the US.
Despite having researched each cities Christmas market schedule, all our planning did not prove helpful while in Vienna. After having traveled thousands of miles to spend most of our time in Vienna, we found out that a majority of the Christmas markets closed despite saying the would be open.  One day, we walked across the city to three different markets only to find empty stalls in front of open museums. I’m not gonna lie, I was devastated…and fuming. It was the main reason we were on this trip, spending a majority of our trip in one of the top Christmas market cities in the world. And they were closed.

Empty Christmas markets in front of the Belvedere Palace, Vienna.

Empty Christmas markets in front of the Belvedere Palace, Vienna.

 

2. Be flexible.
If you travel, you know that no trip is perfect; point made above.  You need to learn to roll with the punches and be flexible. For most trips I can say we succeeded, though I’ll be honest, this trip was a little tougher for me.  I had to remind myself I was still in a beautiful city with amazing food and sights. Don’t let the little disappointments consume your trip and attitude. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

3. Plan to drink a lot of hot, mulled wine.
You will not be disappointed. Ever. It’s also one of the best ways to stay warm. We found that each city had their own take mulled wine. Prague’s wine was a bit simpler, with less spices. Vienna won the creative, living-green approach. You put down a deposit and end up paying between 6-6.50 euro and if you keep the mug, you don’t get any money back. If you return the mug, you can 3-3.50 euro back. Budapest’s wine was strong in comparison with a bit more spices that Prague but less than Vienna. We attributed the strength of the wine with how freaking cold it was. You needed it to survive the walk to and from the Christmas markets to your hotel.

Best way to drink hot, mulled wine is out of a boot.

 

Marketing genius. Each Christmas market in Vienna had different mugs and labeled them by location. Collectors start collecting!

Marketing genius. Each Christmas market in Vienna had different mugs and labeled them by location. Collectors start collecting!

 

Tradition has it that after Christmas all the markets turn over their wares from Christmas to Pigs, which are for good luck.

Tradition has it that after Christmas all the markets turn over their wares from Christmas to Pigs, which are for good luck.

 

Christmas markets are called Advent markets in Budapest and run past January 1st.

Christmas markets are called Advent markets in Budapest and run past January 1st.

 

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Mulled wine is served in a variety of different containers. This one was in a beautiful copper hanging caldron.

 

4. Indulge in the Christmas markets
The way to find the best food in any city is to find out where the locals eat. And Christmas markets are the easiest way to do so. It’s also the least expensive. Locals and tourist mingle together in front of beautiful palaces and churches while dining on some of the best food in the country. Plan to carry cash as these merchants take only cash and no card.

Trdelnik, traditional Czech pastry dough, wrapped around a wooden pole and baked over coals until cooked.

Trdelnik, traditional Czech pastry dough, wrapped around a wooden pole and baked over coals until cooked.

We have no idea what this Viennese dish is but it's delicious. It's a stir-fry of savory ham, potatoes, onions, and who knows what other magic.

We have no idea what this Viennese dish is but it’s delicious. It’s a stir-fry of savory ham, potatoes, onions, and who knows what other magic.

 

Vienna has the best sausages ever. We might have had more than one a day.

Vienna has the best sausages ever. We might have had more than one a day. You can order sausages with buns or without.

 

These delicious donuts were the best donuts we have ever had. It beats Mighty-O and even Top-Pot. Freshly stuffed with either Vanilla, Chocolate, or Apricot filling right when you order.

These delicious donuts were the best donuts we have ever had. It beats Mighty-O and even Top-Pot. Freshly stuffed with either Vanilla, Chocolate, or Apricot filling right when you order.

 

Soup in bread bowls are one of the best ways to stay warm and nourished. The popular options are goulash, pumpkin creme, or creamy potato.

Soup in bread bowls are one of the best ways to stay warm and nourished. The popular options are goulash, pumpkin creme, or creamy potato.

 

Hungarian Pizza, found at nearly every Christmas market (and restaurant).

Hungarian Pizza, found at nearly every Christmas market (and restaurant).

 

Delish TÖLTÖTT KÁPOSZTA aka stuffed Hungarian cabbage with sour cream.

Delish TÖLTÖTT KÁPOSZTA aka stuffed Hungarian cabbage with sour cream.

 

Kartoffelpuffer, potato pancakes bigger than your head. You can get it with stuffed cabbages or with sauteed veggies and chicken or pork.

Kartoffelpuffer, Hungarian potato pancakes bigger than your head. You can get it with stuffed cabbages or with sauteed veggies and chicken or pork.

 

5. Best places to find local gifts 
These local merchants are hawking their homemade gifts to tourists and locals alike. Come into it with expectations that prices may be a bit higher, but walk around and compare prices. Also, don’t hesitate to negotiate with them either. The worse they can say is no, but most likely be open to it. And seriously, we  where else can you find a unicorn christmas ornament?  We loved seeing each city’s tradition tchotchkes; Budapest was known for their leather and chocolate, Vienna was glass figurines and a lot of food, and Prague was various gourmet almonds and carp. Yeah, the latter was confusing for us but we’ll tell you a bit more in a later blog post.

6. Early Riser
This is probably one of the only times you will hear anyone tell you this, but if your main priority is Christmas markets, sleep in.  Seriously, take advantage of your beauty rest because the earliest they open is 10 am.  If you’re up early with no other plans let’s just say you’re screwed. That said, if you are an early riser like we are, I’d highly recommend keeping to an early morning schedule. Get to the museums and palaces as soon as they open in the morning. By the time you’re done with the tours, the Christmas markets are open and you can enjoy a wonderful meal and hot wine while you observe everyone else wishing they were as smart as you.

Have any Christmas market questions or stories to share? I’d love to hear it!

Cheers

Date Night Out: The Pantry, Homemade Pasta Workshop

This post is a part of an ongoing series, Date Night Out: Seattle Style. Join us as we explore new restaurants, uncover hidden gems, and surprise our tastebuds.

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This is not the normal Date Night Out post. It doesn’t involve a restaurant or just enjoying the food and drink. This date required us to earn our food. You may not have heard of The Pantry, but if you live in Seattle you’ve most likely heard of Delancy. A little restaurant hidden on a small side street in the north part of the Ballard neighborhood. They are known as one of the top five places for pizza in Seattle. Absolutely. Divine.

Now back to The Pantry. They are located right behind Delancy and hosts cooking classes that range from techniques to gourmet dishes, as well as family style meals, kids cooking camps, potlucks, and food swaps.  Their schedule of classes and events are seasonal, posted every quarter, and very very very difficult to get into. We’ve been waiting for over two years to get into a class. I’m not kidding when I say, once you get the email that notifies you that all classes are posted, you have less than one hour to sign up, or all three months of classes are sold out.

We may have gotten a bit crazy this season. You see we were driving back from our anniversary trip in Oregon when I got THE email. The only issue was the spotty cell phone reception that kept dropping our transaction every time we wanted to sign up for a class. There definitely were a few expletives and a whole lot of anxiety. But. We. Got. In. We were able to sign up for three classes.

We FINALLY were able to get into a class!

We FINALLY were able to get into a class!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You want me to drop $90/person/class and I have to sign up for the classes ahead of time without any idea of the quality and instruction? Is it even worth it?” Because that’s exactly what we were thinking, especially after signing up for a few classes as couples. And the questions definitely came up again when it was time to pay our credit card bill. But, let me put aside your fear of the cost, your questions of the quality and instruction, because the classes are worth every cent. I think the “sell-out in an hour for three months of classes” is a pretty good indicator.  Especially when they can do this season after season, and year after year.

Kicking off our introduction to The Pantry was the The Homemade Pasta Workshop: The Classics, with Kim Cozzetto Maynard. Over the course of the evening, we would learn dough preparation and kneading, rolling and shaping, and drying for storage…and of course eating!

The Pantry is an intimate space that can seat 16 people comfortably with the instructor at the helm of the communal table. A packet of the pasta and sauces we would be cooking that evening greeted us along with glasses of wine and ice cold water. The little touches like local, homemade jams, jellys, vinegars, oils and bread that were appetizers added to the family like atmosphere.

Getting settled before class starts

   Getting settled before class starts

 

Starting to make our dough

                  Starting to make our dough

 

Learning how to use a pasta machine.

Learning how to use a pasta machine.

Now don’t let the wine and appetizers fool you. We had to make four pastas and sauces in four hours. Thank goodness for 15 students, one instructor, and three volunteers. We definitely couldn’t do it alone. And through the course of the evening we not only learned about the different types of noodles, sauces, but also about the regions and country of Italy.  It was more than what we could have asked for.

 

The making of Farfalle aka Bowtie Pasta

The making of Farfalle aka Bowtie Pasta

 

Trying our hand at Garganelli pasta with a gnocchi board

Trying our hand at Garganelli pasta with a gnocchi board

 

A few of the sauces to be paired with the homemade pasta

A few of the sauces to be paired with the homemade pasta

And voila! Without further adieu, the finished product: Tagliatelle Bolognese (TL), Garganelli Carbonara (TR), Faralle all’ Amatriciana (BL), and Fettucine Alfredo (BR).

Tagliatelle Bolognese, Garganelli Carbonara, Faralle all' Amatriciana, and Fettucine Alfredo.

Tagliatelle Bolognese, Garganelli Carbonara, Faralle all’ Amatriciana, and Fettucine Alfredo.

We finally sat down to a lovely communal dinner where we got to partake in delicious homemade pasta with more wine, stories, and laughs.  It was the best way we could spend a Wednesday evening and we can’t wait for our next class.

I dream of this plate on a daily basis.

I dream of this plate on a daily basis.

And a shout out to our fearless leader,Kim Cozzetto Maynard. We were uber impressed by her ability to manage 15 students with a hands on, personable interaction; maintain a high, positive energy for 4 1/2 hours, cook and start four different sauces for us while the students made the pasta, and instructed a team of three volunteers that were helping her behind the scenes. Oh and her knowledge of the types of pastas, sauces, regions and history of Italy only added to our awestruck, chin on the floor, we-wanna-be-her-one day inspiration.  Needless to say, if you see her as an instructor on one of the classes, you will not be disappointed.

Bon Appetit!

Date Night Out: Skillet

This post is a part of an ongoing series, Date Night Out: Seattle Style. Join us as we explore new restaurants, uncover hidden gems, and surprise our tastebuds.

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Food truck turned restaurant, Skillet, is a local favorite here in Seattle. We have been wanting to visit this place for some time but just haven’t made it until this summer. They have locations in Ballard, Capitol Hill, and a counter at the Seattle Center.

 

Drinks!

Drinks come in really cute mason jars

 

It’s a casual joint with a retro throwback design that we love. The Ballard location is a super airy, wide open space with an awesome outdoor patio. We had arrived just in time for happy hour and had the place to ourselves. Literally, we were the only people there which meant the customer service was awesome. We ordered their Best Friend (Poutine), Chick-on-a-Stick (fried chicken), kale salad, burger, house made buffalo chicharrones, and cheesecake in a jar, and pannacotta.  Basically we ordered their entire happy hour menu and the pannacotta since the cheesecake had raspberries.

Poutine, Fried Chicken, and

Poutine, Fried Chicken, and their Burger

 

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Seasonal cheesecake in a jar

 

Pannacotta with homemade biscotti

Pannacotta with homemade biscotti

 

The atmosphere and service is awesome, but we were a bit surprised by all the hype. Perhaps it was the exuberance from friends and reviews that set the bar high, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed. The kale salad, fried chicken and poutine were the best things we ordered and those were just okay. If you did come here we’d recommend these items.

Unfortunately, the burger was dry with no condiments other than ketchup. The house made buffalo chicharrones were greasy, but it did come with this delicious blue cheese sauce that Kyle ended up scraping off and adding it to his burger. The buffalo chicharrones are huge! If you do want to get these, plan to do so with a large group of friends. There is only so much fried fat (literally) one can eat. And the desserts were okay. The biscotti was far to dry with no flavor other than the caramel sauce and the Kyle wasn’t a fan of the cheesecake.

We’re glad we experienced Skillet, but don’t plan on coming back on our own accord, especially after paying $60 for so-so food.

Have a different experience? Similar one? We’d love to hear it!

Bon Appetit

 

 

Creamy Chicken with Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil

If you know our family you know we love food. Likewise so do our friends. Each week we host a community dinner with close friends and love to test out new recipes.  Most of the time we have winners and every now and then, we flag a recipe to never cook again. Luckily we have only had one, maybe two, incidents of the latter. We’re thankful our friends like to be our guinea pigs. Here’s a new favorite we just tested and it’s a winner. We’re pretty certain this will be a new favorite for your family too.

 

Creamy chicken with sun-dried tomato and basil

Creamy chicken with sun-dried tomato and basil

This is a quick recipe, especially if you’re cooking for a large group. Prep and cook time is less than 90 mins.  Also, I adjusted the original recipe recipe to our taste and the size of our group. We also like leftovers and doubling the sauce is perfect for it. The sauce is a bit more soupy than I’d like. The next time I make this, I’d make a roux to thicken it.

Ingredients:

  • 10 medium chicken breasts
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
  • 2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, chiffonade
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  • Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, to taste
  • Melt 4 tablespoons butter in two large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken, skin-side down, and sear both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side; set aside
  • Melt remaining 2 tablespoon butter in the skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, heavy cream, sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan, thyme, oregano and basil
  • Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Return chicken to the skillet
  • Place into oven and roast until completely cooked through, reaching an internal temperature of 175 degrees F, about 25-30 minutes
  • While the chicken is baking, boil water and cook your pasta. Short pasta is recommended (penne, gemelli, torchietti, or fusilli)
  • Serve immediately over pasta garnished with fresh basil

Bon Appétit!

 

Stuffed Onions w/ Lamb and Pomegranate

We’re quite excited the weather is changing from hot to cool here in the Northwest, and so are our dinner recipes. I’m sure it’s the same for many of you as it is for our household; the summers are always a challenge for us. We love the hot weather, but hate the fact that we can’t use our stove or oven for fear of death by heat and humidity. As we gear up for fall, we are leaving the salads, sushi, burgers, and eating out behind us and looking forward to more savory, long-oven roasted meals, like this one. Courtesy of epicurious, it’s not only delicious but, gluten-free and dairy-free too.

Stuffed Onions with Spiced Lamb and Pomegranates

Stuffed Onions with Spiced Lamb and Pomegranates (Photo Credit: Epicurious.com)

You can check out the original recipe here, but we have tweaked it for large group meals or dinner for us for the week. What can I say? We hate cooking in the middle of the week. It’s nice to have a delicious, fresh meal you just need to heat up.

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 large Spanish onions (sweet onions), peeled and left whole
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 container of oil-packed anchovies, drained, patted dry, and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup raw jasmine rice
  • 1/2teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • *3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, divided.
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Preparation:

Boil the onions:
Fill a medium pot with enough water to cover the onions and bring to a boil. Add whole onions, return to a boil, and cook until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove onions to a colander, drain, and let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut a 1/2-inch wedge from the outside to the core of each onion, then carefully peel 5 outer layers from each onion and reserve; chop the onion wedges and core, and reserve separately.

Make the stuffing:
*If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, you can make your own. Pour an entire POM 12 oz juice bottle into a sauté pan and place on simmer until the liquid slowly evaporates and becomes thicker, like molasses. Use as you would for the rest of the recipe.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the lamb, anchovies, salt, and pepper and cook, breaking meat up with a wooden spoon, until lamb is no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spices and 2 cups broth; cook, stirring, until evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer lamb mixture to a rimmed baking sheet and cool slightly; cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator, transfer to a bowl, and add parsley, cilantro, and 3 tablespoon pomegranate molasses.

Ready to stuff the onions with the lamb mixture

Ready to stuff the onions with the lamb mixture

Stuff and bake the onions:
Preheat the oven to 250°F. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining broth and pomegranate molasses with the tomato paste. Wrap one onion layer around about 2 to 3 tablespoons filling and arrange seam-side down in a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Repeat with remaining onion layers and filling.

You’ll have enough leftovers for more than 1 pan. Depending on how large the onions are, you’ll need either 1-9×13 and 1-9×9 pan or 2-9×13 pans.

Pour liquid over stuffed onions, cover with foil, and roast until tender and some of the liquid is absorbed, 2 hours (you can roast for up to 3 additional hours for softer, more savory onions). Remove from oven and uncover. Preheat broiler and broil until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. To serve, drizzle with oil, and garnish with pomegranate seeds, parsley, and cilantro.

Best served with a green salad and a loaf of fresh rustic bread w/ fresh butter.

Bon Appétit!

Homemade Pasta w/ Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

At our recent visit to Staple & Fancy, the waitress had gifted us with lovely packages of fresh homemade pasta. We like to think it was a “thank you” gift for putting up with a group of three vulgar, obnoxious, and inappropriate guys who sat next to us for the better part of our meal.  That said, we weren’t too bothered by it. We just pretended we were in another country and they were speaking a different language.

Fresh, homemade pasta by Ethan Stowell

Fresh, homemade pasta by Ethan Stowell

Though it wasn’t her fault at all, the waitress did apologize for them toward the end of our meal and ended up sharing some amazing pasta with us. We didn’t want to mask the flavour of this with strong sauces like alfredo or a rich red sauce, but rather let it shine by itself. We settled on fresh cherry tomatoes from our garden, fresh basil, and fresh parmesan romano shavings. Mix all with a good dash of olive oil and red pepper flakes and this dinner is ready in less than 10 minutes.

Fresh, homemade pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil

Fresh, homemade pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil

The awesome thing is  this pasta, once added to boiling water, cooks perfectly in  5 mins. Lagana Foods is actually a pasta project, founded by Ethan Stowell and a friend several years ago. They serve it at select restaurants in Washington and Oregon as well as select retailers. If you don’t live in either state, don’t fret. Amazon Fresh can deliver this to your door!  We highly recommend you try some!

Bon appetit!

 

Date Night Out: Staple and Fancy

This post is a part of an ongoing series, Date Night Out: Seattle Style. Join us as we explore new restaurants, uncover hidden gems, and surprise our tastebuds. 

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We’re officially on vacation! This year we decided to do a stay-cation and enjoy the great PNW. I love the summers here and though I have thoroughly loved traveling abroad each year, a little bit of me was sad I was missing out on one of the best parts of Seattle; its summers.

This year we’re thrilled to be able to enjoy backpacking, hiking, paddle boarding, and all the summer activities the Northwest has to offer. We’re also embracing the “be a tourist in your own city” approach which definitely includes food tours. Because let’s just be honest, Seattle has some of the best chefs, the best restaurants and the best local ingredients to work with.

To celebrate the last several weeks of of long nights and working weekends, we decided to hit up the Ballard neighborhood and “wing it.” After window shopping menus on the north side of Old Ballard Avenue, we decided to try the little quadrant at the south end, where four little powerhouse eateries reside. If you’re local, you’re aware of this little corner where Staple & Fancy, Chippy’s, Barnacle, and The Walrus & the Carpenter reside. The two formers are owned by Ethan Stowell. The latter two by Renee Erickson.  And whether or not you’re local or visiting, you’ll need to be sure to add one or all of these places to your “must eat at” list.

We had no reservations and the wait was two hours, but luckily there was seating at their outside bar. Though the weather was turning, the clouds coming in and temperatures dropping, we had come prepared with raincoats. Their outdoor heat lamps also kept us dry and toasty for our entire meal.

 

The inside of the restaurant is beautiful and intimate. Though we ate outside, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. It totally reminded us of our trips to different European cities, where locals embrace the weather, enjoy their drink and food outside, and people watch for hours.  I would highly recommend this option; it’s totally worth it. And if you’re concerned about waitstaff forgetting about you, don’t be. We had the most prompt and attentive service and never once did we feel like we were an after thought.

We had originally been drawn to a few dishes like an artichoke ravioli, but their Chef’s Tasting option stood out amongst the rest. I mean, how could you ignore a statement like, “We would also like to inform you that you really should do this.” If Ethan Stowell tells his patrons that you really should do this, who are we to argue with him? We handed the menus back to the server and decided on a multi-course feast crafted by their Chef. We also informed them I was deathly allergic to shellfish and raspberries. Not a problem. Their Chef can do anything. And let me tell you, their “anything” was mind-blowing.

First Course: Eight dishes (you read that right. EIGHT dishes)

All eight plates stand out from each other yet blended so well when eaten together. If we had to pick favourites we would have to say their Peach & Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho and their Beef Tartare were at the top of the list.

Speck and Fried Oysters

Speck to share. Fried Oysters for him. Not shown: Sauteed Broccoli Rab for her

 

Peach and Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Beef Tartare, and Spring Salad

Peach and Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Beef Tartare, and Spring Salad. Not shown: Homemade mozzarella and figs.

 

Tombo (ahi) with watermelon and pickled tomatoes

Tombo (ahi) with watermelon and pickled tomatoes

 

Second Course: Pasta Dish

The chef totally surprised us with my favorite pasta of all time. Fresh, homemade Bolognese. What was a pleasant surprise was the addition of fresh mint. I’ve never seen or tasted Bolognese with it and loved it. I’m definitely trying this next time I make homemade Bolognese. By the way, I was so giddy when this came out I made Kyle take this picture before we devoured it.

Homemade, fresh pasta

Homemade, fresh pasta.

 

Third Course: Main Entree

Kyle nearly died when this pork chop came out. I’m typically not a huge fan of pork, unless it’s bacon (just being honest) but let me tell you this was delicious. The outside was seared with a perfect crisp and the inside was moist and tender. Let me tell you, it was like pulling teeth to get him to share this.

Pork Chop with creamy polenta and fried green tomatoes

Pork Chop with creamy polenta and fried green tomatoes

 

Fourth Course: Dessert

We love panna cotta and we LOVED this version of it. The combined flavours of grilled and roasted peaches with dulce de leche pearls were delicious. I’m tempted to figure out how to make these pearls for future dinner parties at our home. Also, their biscotti was hands-down the best biscotti I have ever had. It had just the perfect amount of crunch and tenderness. I didn’t feel like I was  going to break my teeth or get sugar all over my face trying to bite into it. Because sometimes that really does happen…just not with this one.

 

Panacotta w/ Dulce de Leche pearls and Roasted Peaches

Panna Cotta w/ Dulce de Leche pearls and Roasted Peaches and Biscotti

 

Like the food, we left wine and drink selections up to their staff. Our waitress  paired our drinks perfectly to the plates that were coming out. We suggest you do the same, especially since each plate will be a surprise for you.

The four course meal is $55/person and all people in your party must participate. As Ethan Stowell says, “we would also like to inform you that you really should do this.

We hope you enjoy Staple and Fancy as much as we did. Book your reservation today! 

bon appetit!

 

Date Night Out: Westward

Westward. It’s not just a place that has amazing food and views. It’s an experience.

We’ve been eagerly looking to visit Westward for months. A dear friend and pal I work for gifted us this generous experience and needless to say the gift card was burning a hole in my wallet since Christmas. Granted schedules have been crazy, but there was also those times where we couldn’t book a 2 person reservation for weeks or months at a time. Let me tell you, the wait was well worth it; especially when your dinner has views like this.

First come, first serve on these gorgeous adirondack chairs

First come, first serve on these gorgeous adirondack chairs

It’s a little hidden gem in the city and one I can guarantee you’ve driven right past it. Located on the north side of South Lake Union, it’s located just south of Ivar’s and right next to the dry boat docks.

The menu is short, concise, and delicious.  Everything is in season and fresh. Mostly tailored toward seafood, there are a few things on there that will cater even to the vegetarian in us, like their Emmer-Farro Salad and fresh radishes with goat butter and smoked salt. The highlight for us was their Spainish sardines and chicken liver pate. They had run out of prosciutto and in turn replaced it with two different types of salami and chicken liver pate. The latter, a first for both of us, we fell in love. It’s complex, buttery-like texture was divine.

We also definitely recommend that you plan on sharing. There isn’t a lot of food that is served but the amount that is provided is too much for one person.  For example, the Emmer-Farro salad was perfect for 2-3 people, but would have been way too much for just one person. Could we say fiber overload? The same went with the all of our other choices. We were really happy with our selections as they all paired really well together, but commented throughout the meal that it would have been really interesting experience if we hadn’t planned on sharing.

Bluebird Grain's Emmer Farro Salad

Bluebird Grain’s Emmer Farro Salad

 

Grilled Spanish Sardine Bruschetta

Grilled Spanish Sardine Bruschetta

 

Radishes with Goat Butter and Smoked Salt

Radishes with Goat Butter and Smoked Salt

 

La Quercia Prosciutto Americano....redone with salami and chicken liver pate

La Quercia Prosciutto Americano….redone with salami and chicken liver pate

 

Cocktail drinks and wine selection are top notch and creative.  I normally avoid rosé and white wines but decided to try their Miradou Cotes de Provence 2014 from France and was really pleased with it. It will definitely be a staple in our home. Kyle had their Paloma which was a bit too salty for him, so he switched it up to the Vermouth Collins and  loved it.

Food and drinks aren’t the only stars of this establishment. The design and architecture, both inside and out have their shining moments. You’re walking not just into a restaurant but an experience. Everything is thoughtfully selected from the paint colors to the light fixtures to the bathroom decor.

Photo Credit: Westward Bar

Photo Credit: Westward Bar

 

But my favorite spot is out front. When you first walk down the driveway, you can tell you’re in for a treat. To your immediate right is not just the views of South Lake Union, but gorgeous adirondack chairs and colorful umbrellas. Each chair has a number painted on the back of it to help waitstaff with your orders. For novices like us, it’s good to note this section is first come, first serve. So plan to get there right when they open at 4pm. And it doesn’t end there. There’s also an open fire pit made out of oyster shells that is right next to these chairs. What a great way to unwind, relax, and enjoy the views and company. 

Photo Credit: Westward Seattle

Photo Credit: Westward Seattle

 

If you’re into oysters, the Little Gull, is an oyster bar where staff are shucking fresh oysters just for you. There’s bar seating as well as normal restaurant style seating in this area. The flow between Westward and Little Gull are unnoticeable, but having different names threw me for a loop. Unfortunately, I’m deathly allergic to shellfish so we avoided this section and their fresh oyster menu.

Hands down this is one of our favorites and we highly recommend it to locals and visitors alike. Just plan to get there in advance for outdoor seating or plan in advance and make sure you have reservations.

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Be sure to check back to see where we end up next! And if you have any recommendations of where we should visit, be sure to comment. We love suggestions especially for the Date Night Out blog series.

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