Cooking on the Dalmatian Coast with Chef Tatjana Ciciliani


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This past Saturday I had the incredible opportunity to cook with one of Croatia's most beloved chefs, Tatjana Ciciliani, in her 13th century palace home on the Dalmatian Coast. Tatjana (and her husband Kaja) could not be more warm, passionate or hilarious. They cracked me up all day! She represents what I love most about Croatian cooking: she's totally down to earth, has an infectious sense of humor, gets her inspiration each day from the markets and what's naturally growing on the hillsides and in the sea (she is from Trogir after all!) and cooks with the seasons; she serves her fresh, simple, yet creative food around her large wooden table and fully enjoys it with her family, friends and Croatian wine. I felt like I found a kindred spirit and I could not be more grateful to get to learn about Dalmatian cooking from her!

We started the day at Trogir's market, where literally every person we passed or spoke to was one of Tatjana's friends, neighbors or someone she'd grown up with.

I loved cooking with Tatjana because her dishes begin at the market. I could not understand that passion more!! She goes with some ideas in her mind, but really relies upon what's fresh that day and which ingredients jump out at her. We went in the butcher's shop first and came out with lamb and veal cuts. Next to the fish market. After she explained all of the fish available on each table, she decided on octopus so fresh it couldn't have been caught more than an hour before, along with two types of white fish for our Brudet. I've been wanting to learn how to properly gut and clean fish for years, and thanks to Tatjana I finally got my lesson:) After picking out vegetables, we stopped for possibly the best bread and cheese I have had yet in Croatia -- the man who made the bread mills his own grain and traditionally bakes it peka style (under a dome covered in ash). The woman who made the cheese only has about 10 sheep -- you could taste the quality and wild herbs her sheep graze on from the first bite.

We made a feast! Fresh octopus salad, traditional fish brudet which marinated all day long until Kaja cooked it over open flame (above), lamb pašticada which also slow-cooked the entire day with caramelized onions, red wine and dried figs to create the most incredible flavor, citrus cake, arancini (a very traditional treat during Christmas and a perfect way to use the peels!) seared veal and a salsa that encompassed so many of the wonderful flavors from Croatia's coast: fresh parsley, lemon, dried figs, olive oil, raisins, sardines and olives. All served with local white wine.

We had to stop at one point because Trogir's musicians dressed in full traditional garb passed right infront of Tatjana's doorstep. Tourist season is over, so you can imagine how fun it was to see them marching through the narrow, ancient streets for the residents.

Tatjana's lemon tree that she planted when she was young and shares with her neighbors.

Thank you, Tatjana & Kaja for an absolutely amazing day (and Dalmatian feast!) that we will never forget! Thank you also for loving on our kids even as their tenth meltdown hit:) We left possibly five pounds heavier and so thankful for your warmth and hospitality, and for sharing your beautiful city of Trogir, home, table and many talents with us!

Hidden Gems of Croatia: Trogir in Early Winter


Monday, December 5, 2016

Trogir is one of the oldest, most beautiful and most visited cities on the Croatian coast, but I'll let you in on a little secret... If you want to experience this peaceful stone city that has been continuously inhabited for 2300 years (!) without any of the crowds, come in the winter! There are quite a few restaurants and shops that close down but the reward is to see and experience this historic city in it's natural element. We felt like we were the only non-residents there, and actually may have been! Trogir is so small that you can walk the perimeter of the old city in about five minutes. It's a beautiful walk wandering in and out of the labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets with bougainvillea spilling over the ancient walls, and we were so happy to find that every single person we interacted with was warm, friendly and grew up with the last person we'd just met.

We've spent each morning slowly drinking coffee in the main square, taking our time just as Trogir's residents do, talking over the ringing of so many church bells. We rented the family apartment from Trogir Stars just one street over from the Cathedral, owned by the kindest family. It conveniently shares a square with Calebotta Restaurant (amazing breakfast and coffee!) and Đovani, which serves possibly the best gelato in town. Our kiddos didn't sleep much but our apartment was spotless, was a great price, is in the best location and the owner Vesna played with our kids and invited us over for her homemade apple cake. We couldn't ask for more!

We spent Sunday morning at the cathedral and seemingly with the rest of the small city slowly walking the Riva and talking over coffee (thank you, Kaja!) in one of the many outdoor cafes. Something else I loved was that each time we passed someone, they always smiled and said, "Dobro jutro," or "Dobar dan!" for good morning and good afternoon, or just "hola!" to each other which made me laugh. It's a rare treat to find that on the streets in Zagreb.

We fell in love with quiet, ancient, mediterranean Trogir. The vibrant and friendly community really makes this city shine and I am so thankful we got to experience it without being shoulder to shoulder with tourists.
Come visit Trogir in the late fall or early winter!

Magnolia Slastice: One of the Most Charming Cafe Bakeries in Zagreb


Monday, November 28, 2016

Zagreb isn't a big capitol city, but it is full of gems. It seems like every time we walk down Ilica, the main shopping street in the old part of the city, there's a new cafe or cute shop or restaurant. I've passed Magnolia Slastice so many times since it opened in September, wanting to go in, and finally did this morning with John Shea! Ever since he was a baby, he has been my go-to little person to try out coffee shops and bakeries. He was an absolute angel this morning, eating his macarons (no one loves macarons like John Shea!!) while I drank my coffee.

This part of Croatia does cakes so well -- they're not overly sweet but always creamy. Kremsnita is one of the most famous kinds, with a thick cream filling inbetween puff pastry, which originates from the beautiful town of Samobor (bottom left cake).  The Zagreb kind of kremsnita has a layer of chocolate on top. Though the best cake I've ever had here is cheesecake (from Torte i To) !

Sharing macarons with Mali Rex :)

The coffee culture in Zagreb is amazing -- there are over 1,000 cafes, everywhere you look. Magnolia is definitely one of the prettiest I've been in, and like the rest of our city, their bakery selection and decor change with seasons.  // Magnolia Slastice, Gundulićeva 4, Zagreb

Our Thanksgiving Table is Set!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I went with the most practical table setting yet for this year -- the kids' butcher paper is our tablecloth with their colored pencils & chalk out so they can draw to their heart's content! I think I originally saw the idea on Pinterest and thought it couldn't be more perfect for this age. I set the table up yesterday so the kids could color during each meal and now, haha, there are all kinds of new decorations for the big day.

I made two simple garlands from the huge juniper trees in our backyard to add some fragrant greenery and span the length of the table. They'll move to our staircase after tomorrow for Christmas! I also love setting the table with these candlestick holders and gold silverware, which were all found at the antique market.

I am so thankful for all of you... for reading this blog and trying my recipes, for those of you who have become friends or written the kindest emails and for coming all over the world with our family.

Happy Thanksgiving from Zagreb!!

Turkey or The Best Simple Roast Chicken!?


Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy start to Thanksgiving week!! 

Thanksgiving is of course not celebrated here in Croatia, but our beautiful markets are perfect (and always an inspiration for me!) for stocking up on ingredients for Thursday. Last year I learned the hard way that a turkey does not fit in our tiny European oven, so I made The Best Simple Roast Chicken instead. I know turkey is an American tradition, but truth be told, we enjoyed having chicken far more! The meat is moist and flavorful, it's far quicker to roast and it's easy to pop another one in the oven during the following days of leftovers with all of the side dishes.

I'm also going to do what I did last year and make a simple stuffing to go in the pan with the chicken. All you need to do is toss cubed bread with olive oil, sea salt, dried herbs and chop the vegetables in this recipe to be tossed in alongside the bread. I like to put half inside the chicken cavity and leave the rest in the pan to retain some crunch.

If you're like us and can't fit a big turkey in your oven, or feel like switching things up this year, here's my Mom's recipe for the best roast chicken!

The Best Simple Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken for roasting
1 TBS crushed garlic + 6 garlic cloves, peeled
olive oil
fine sea salt
ancho chile pepper
dried oregano
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

If there are giblets inside the chicken, remove them. Rinse the chicken under cold water, both the outside and the cavity. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and set it in a large baking dish. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over the chicken. Put the lemon halves inside the cavity along with the fresh rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves. Drizzle enough olive oil over the chicken (roughly 3 tablespoons) that you can rub it in to the entire bird with your fingers. Rub in the crushed garlic and cover the chicken with the sea salt, pepper, oregano and paprika, about 1/2 teaspoon of each up to a teaspoon, depending on your taste.

Roast for about an hour, depending on the size of the chicken, or until clear juices run out. Halfway through baking, spoon the juices on the bottom of the baking dish over the chicken to keep it moist and again once it's done roasting.

Roasted Carrots & Zucchini

3 zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 bunch of carrots, sliced lengthwise
olive oil
fine sea salt

Place the sliced vegetables in a baking dish and drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top with about 1/2 teaspoon to a teaspoon of salt. Toss the vegetables with your hands. Once the chicken has baked for about 20 minutes, add the vegetable dish to the oven and bake for the remaining 30-40 minutes at 400 degrees F. Serve the vegetables with the chicken, allowing them to soak up some of the juices.

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