Treat Your Taste-buds with French Cuisine

Posted on: May 31st, 2011 Posted by

French cuisine is internationally renown and is even included on UNESCO’s  list of “intangible cultural heritage”. Although it is possible to dine in a French-themed restaurant or bistro in almost every major city across the globe, there is nothing like dining on authentic French dishes in France. Cookery varies between regions with dishes developed to make the most of produce and ingredients that are at their best in each area.

If you are taking a self-catering break to France this year, treat your taste-buds by sampling some of the following fantastic French cuisine.

Tourin

Ditch your fears of garlic-breath, and try Tourin, a garlic soup which is traditionally made in the south-west regions of France. The rich soup typically appears on menus during the garlic harvest between July and August, and many French villages hold their own “tourin” festival, with sampling events and competitions. Tourin may contain up to 20 cloves of garlic, as well as eggs and chicken stock, and is often poured over sliced of bread and Gruyere cheese. Chew parsley leaves after eating this soup, to freshen your breath naturally!

Moules Frites

Moules Frites – mussels and chips – are a speciality from the Brittany coastline, and are a popular snack or lunch meal. If you are fortunate enough to be staying close to the beach, you could even try harvesting and preparing the mussels yourself, for a genuine, ocean fresh flavour. After cleaning the mussels, steam them with white wine and garlic, discarding any that do not open, and serve with crispy french fries or thin cut chips.

Coq au Vin

Rustic and warming, Coq au Vin, is traditionally made with wine from the Burgundy region of France. Although the name translates as “Rooster with Wine”, most recipes use chicken, which is cooked slowly for a tender, mouth-watering texture. Coq au Vin usually contains mushrooms and garlic and is often served with flat noodles or potatoes.

Confit de Canard

A truly unique French dish which you are unlikely to find outside of France is Confit de Canard – Preserved Duck. A speciality of the Aquitaine region, duck legs are poached in fat and spices in a hot oven, to create an incomparably decadent dish. Although you may see tins of Confit de Canard in UK supermarkets from time to time, indulge yourself during your stay in France to discover what this dish is all about.

Crème Brûlée

When you dine in French restaurants, one dessert that you’ll be offered frequently is Crème Brûlée . Even if you are dieting – be sure to allow yourself at least one of these creamy desserts during your holiday.  Crème Brûlée has been a mainstay of French cookery for hundreds of years, and is made by topping an vanilla-flavoured egg custard base with sugar and toasting to a hard caramel.

Calvados

Complete a typical French meal with a digestif such as Calvados. Calvados is a brandy, made from apples in the Calvados region of Normandy. Following a heavy meal with a glass of this strong tipple, which has a distinctive apple flavour, is said to aid the digestion – enjoy! Other digestifs include cognac and pastis (an anise flavoured liquor).

Delicious Dishes from Greece

Posted on: May 23rd, 2011 Posted by

Greece and her beautiful islands are a hot-spot for holiday-makers looking for sunshine, relaxation and historical sight-seeing. If you a travelling to Greece this year, be sure to make the most of your visit by sampling some of the traditional food available. Greek cookery shows Italian, Balkan and Turkish influences, and makes the most of ingredients readily available in the region. Delight your tastebuds and take home some culinary inspiration with these delicious dishes from Greece.

Tzatziki

With its refreshing, cool taste, tzatziki is a dip made from yogurt, cucumber, mint leaves, lemon juice and garlic. In Greece, tzatziki is often served with grilled meats and salads, so it is ideal for a summer barbecue – whether you are at home or away. If you want to make your own tzatziki, simple blend the finely chopped garlic and cucumber with crushed mint leaves and lemon juice, and stir into the yogurt, seasoning to taste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving to allow the flavours to infuse.

Dolmadaki

Dolmadaki are vine leaves, wrapped around a mouth-watering filling of meat, rice and vegetables
and served with tzatziki. Some restaurants also offer alternative fillings such as sultanas and pine nuts. Dolmadaki are very easy to make – you can use cabbage leaves if vine leaves are not readily available. In ancient mythology, dolmadaki with nectar and ambrosia were served to the gods, who inhabited Mount Olympus, making this a very special food for the Greeks.

Fakas

Fakas is a lentil based soup which is typical day to day Greek fare. Hearty and satisying, Fakasis made using brown lentils and vegetables, sometimes flavoured with a ham bone. Greeks serve this homely dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of vinegar – perhaps a little unusual but well-worth trying as the acidic flavour accentuates the earthiness of the lentils.

Kleftiko

Difficult to replicate at home, kleftiko is the name given to meat – lamb or goat – cooked on the bone in a clay pit oven. Legend has it that this speciality was first cooked by robbers, who stole an animal and cooked it in a sealed oven, so that the smoke would not give them away! Once tried, the tender, juicy texture of kleftiko is never forgotten, and a traditional kleftiko meal is the highlight of many holidays.

Moussaka

Moussaka is probably the best known Greek dish, and is full of robust flavours which make it ideal as a lunch or supper dish. The classic moussaka recipe published by chef Nicholas Tselemente during the 1920s layers aubergine slices with minced lamb, herbs, onions and tomatoes, and is topped with a rich bechamel sauce. Baked in the oven, this one pot dish is excellent if you are staying in self-catering accommodation with limited cooking space.

Baklava

Decadent desserts don’t get better than baklava – a dish made from fine filo pastry, honey and nuts. Baklava was originally a Turkish dish, eaten by the Ottoman’s on feast days and has the recipe varies according to region, and even family.

Earthquake Safety

Posted on: May 16th, 2011 Posted by

Since the start of 2011, we have seen increasing numbers of earthquakes across the globe. Japan, New Zealand, Spain and even the United Kingdom have seen earth tremors of varying severity over recent months, and some of these have been extremely destructive.

You may be wondering what earthquakes have to do with self catering holidays. Well, since earthquakes usually happen with little or no prior warning, it is not impossible that you may encounter one when you are on vacation. While this is a nightmare that nobody wants to face, having an understanding of how to protect yourself and your family is essential. In this article, we set out to give you some understanding of what happens when an earthquake occurs and how you should react if it does.

Earthquakes are caused by movements of the earth’s plates, creating a shaking sensation which can damage structures on the surface. Even the most minor trembles can be alarming, particularly the first time you experience them as it may be difficult to stand and furniture may move around.

If a quake does occur, you should bear in mind the following safety tips and advice.

The number one piece of advice is DO NOT PANIC. Most quakes are minor and cause little or no problems, so stay cool and aware.

Make sure that everyone in the family knows a plan of action in case of emergency.

In severe quakes, local emergency services will mobilise to provide assistance. Always follow instructions given by police, fire and ambulance officers for optimum safety.

Only make phone calls if it is absolutely essential, to keep lines free for vital communications.

Quakes are normally followed by aftershocks, so be ready to take shelter again if this happens.

Indoors

If you are indoors when an earthquake happens, experts advise that you should stay indoors until the shaking stops. Most people are injured when they panic and try to run outside or get to a different part of the building during an earthquake.

Drop to the floor and shelter beneath a strong table. If there is nothing that you can hide under, position yourself in an inner corner of the building. Use your arms to protect your face.

Although it is often advised to take shelter in a doorway, this is only the case if the doorway is strongly supported. Since it is unlikely that you can be sure about this in holiday accommodation, it is advisable to forget this option.

Be aware of any objects which might fall on you and cause injury, such as light fittings or ornaments. You should also get as far away as possible from glass doors or windows which could shatter.

Never use elevators during or after a quake. Remember that electric and gas supplies may be disturbed by quakes.

Keep your travel documents, insurance and identification in an easy to access place at all times during your holiday. If something unexpected happens, then it will be beneficial to be able to access these papers.

Outdoors

If you are outdoors, stay put but move away from any buildings, street lights or anything else which may fall and cause injury.

In a Vehicle

If you happen to be driving when an earthquake occurs, look for a safe place to stop. Don’t park under bridges, by buildings or under electrical wires, as these may be damaged by the tremors.

If you are able to continue your journey, do so with care, remembering that quakes can cause cracks in roads and cause flooding.

If  You Get Trapped

Make sure that everyone knows what to do if they are caught under debris.

Stay calm and do not try to move about too much, as this may cause movement of the debris and put you in greater danger.

Summon help using a whistle if possible, or by calling out when you hear people nearby.

Do not light a flame, as gas pipes may be damaged by the quake and could cause explosions.

While keeping the advice detailed above in mind, it is good to remember that the likelihood that you will be involved in an earthquake remains very low. We hope that rather than frightening you, these tips will give you a sense of security knowing what to do “just in case”.

Taking Your Pet On Holiday

Posted on: May 9th, 2011 Posted by

Leaving your beloved family pet in a kennel or with a pet-sitter while you go on holiday may bring up mixed feelings for many of you. Not only can it be costly(from £10 per night), but it is common to have concerns with regards to the treatment of your dog while you are away. A solution to this is to let your dog join you on vacation, as many self-catering accommodations throughout the United Kingdom and Europe welcome pets.

Taking your pet on holiday is a fun idea, but needs a certain amount forward planning to make sure that everything runs smoothly. If you want to take your canine companion on holiday, the following tips should help.

The introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme, known as PETS,  has seen a huge rise in the number of families choosing to take their dog on holiday to Europe. The scheme was created to allow people from the UK to take their pet on holiday and return without the need for quarantine.
If you are travelling to Europe and taking your dog, following the PETS guidelines, which are set by DEFRA is essential. Your dog will need to be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies, as well as passing a blood test to enter the UK after your holiday. For full, step by step details of how to prepare your pet, check out DEFRA’s information page http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/pets/travel/pets/pet-owners/, or ask your veterinarian. This stage of planning is time consuming, and it is advisable to complete these arrangements before you book your break. Remember to pack all relevant documentation when you depart.
Double check that your chosen accommodation does accept pets, as there is nothing worse than getting to your destination and discovering that you’ve made a mistake.
Planning your route is important – you need to be sure that your dog will be accepted at all stages journey, particularly before entering the UK. Car ferries are the most common form of transport for those travelling with pets, so do your research and book ahead. Remember, dogs will only be allowed to enter on authorised routes, so get this right, or your pet may end up in quarantine.
Buy a roomy crate or pet-carrier, or a seatbelt harness which will keep your dog secure.
It pays to take your dog on a few practice trips of a shorter duration, before you go on holiday. Get him used to the motion of the car, so that he will settle and relax on longer journeys.    The journey itself can be a stressful experience for your dog, especially if he is not used to being in new settings. Take his bed/blanket and favourite toys to offer a little extra comfort during the trip. Nervous pets may benefit from a few drops of Bach Rescue Remedy in their water, or in severe cases, a sedative from the vet.
Resolve any behavioural problems before you take your dog on holiday with you – a barking dog which damages people’s property and makes a mess isn’t nice for anyone, and you may end up losing any security deposit paid for accommodation.
It goes without saying, but as a reminder – pack a good supply of doggy doo bags and clean up after your pet.
Do your research about local rules and regulations regarding dogs. In some areas of Spain and France, dogs must be kept on a lead at all times, with hefty fines for those who do not obey.
Remember that dogs can suffer from heat exhaustion in the same way that humans can. Never, ever, leave your dog unattended in the car during a hot day – sadly many pets die each year this way. Refresh your dog’s water frequently and make sure that he or she has a shady spot to rest in. Be aware of the signs of heat stroke – rapid pulse, restlessness, vomiting, dull eyes and lack of co-ordination and seek assistance immediately if required.
Other nasties which your pet may encounter in Europe include sand-flies and mosquitoes. Buy a Scalibor brand collar, which will last for six months, to protect from diseases such as heart-worm and leishmanasis.

Holiday Driving in Europe

Posted on: May 3rd, 2011 Posted by

If you are planning your annual holiday, deciding to take your own car or hire a vehicle has many advantages over relying on public transport. Buses and trains may be a cheaper option, but are notoriously busy and may not always run to schedule. However, driving in Europe has its differences to driving in the United Kingdom. The following tips will help you to stay safe (and legal!) when you are on the roads during your holidays.

Documents

Whenever you drive in Europe, you should ensure that you carry relevant documents : valid, full driving licence, your passport, motor insurance details and the original car registration document. If you are hiring a vehicle, you should ask the company to supply you with a Vehicle on Hire certificate. The police can request these documents at any time when you are on the road, and can fine you or remove your vehicle if you are missing any one of them.

Driving on the Right

It can take some time to get used to driving on the right, and many accidents occur each year when visitors to Europe forget which side of the road they are supposed to be on. This often happens when people first set out for the day or after a break, so be alert and remember to stay on the right.

Check on Local Laws

The AA offer a pdf guide to driving requirements in Europe. It is worth checking up on this before you leave and learning the speed limits, drink/driving and seatbelt regulations in the country you plan to visit. To discover more about driving in your chosen destination visit the AA motoring advice page

In many European countries, there are certain pieces of kit which should always be carried in your vehicle. A reflective vest, to be worn if anyone has to alight from the vehicle on the road-side, is one of the most common requirements – one for each  person travelling. Further requirements may include a spare set of glasses if you normally wear them to drive, and a warning triangle. Again, it is worth finding out specifics for the country that you are visiting to ensure that you don’t end up paying out hefty fines.

Hiring a Vehicle

Always ensure that you have full, appropriate insurance when you hire a vehicle. Where possible, inspect the vehicle with the hire company representative and take a dated photo of the vehicle. Ensure that you make a note of any scratches or bumps before you set off, so that you won’t be blamed and end up paying for them later. You should also take another photo when you drop the vehicle off.

Crime on the Road

Unfortunately,  there are people out there who prey on naïve tourists who are travelling in Europe. It pays to be wary of strange behaviour from other drivers and to remember that things may not always be as they seem. Many techniques have been employed by these criminals in order to steal people’s valuables – impersonating a police officer, indicating your vehicle is damaged or flagging passers-by down for assistance are some of the most common. Protect yourself by removing car hire stickers from your vehicle’s windows, as these draw attention to the fact you are a tourist. In the case that you are pulled over by the police, but feel unsure, call 112, the European emergency services to ascertain  their authenticity.

Other Useful Tips

It is sensible to always carry a mobile phone which is fully charged and ready to use in caseof emergency. Other bits and pieces which you might like to pack in your car include plenty of water and a first aid kit. If you are travelling during harsh winter weather conditions, blankets and extra clothing may also come in handy.