Pesce in Acqua Pazza – From the sea to the plate in minutes

March 5th, 2011

Cuando los ingredientes son óptimas, la cocina puede ser simple.”

“When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple”.

No truer words have been written, especially when it comes to fresh -beautifully fresh - fish still redolent of brine, eyes bright, firm fleshed and loaded with culinary possibilities. Last evening four Americans showed up at the dock, a stringer of corvina (sea bass) in hand, and a request for dinner. The menu was already set for the Cala Mia dining room, and with only 30 minutes before the hotel’s guests would be arriving, an uncomplicated dish was required.

I remembered reading David Shalleck’s Mediterranean Summer, a biographical journal of his first year’s as Chef on a luxury sailing yacht in the Med, and how he was challenged to create new dishes every day using only the freshest of ingredients for his discerning and demanding owners. Cheffing at an isolated island resort is similar to cooking on a yacht…you just can’t make a quick run to the market when the whim hits you. So you get creative and simplify, simplify, simplify…and use what your location offers up…in this case fresh fish.

One of Shalleck’s ‘go to’ recipes was Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water), a traditional Neapolitan dish that exemplifies simplicity.  With Cala Mia’s ‘go to’ guy, Beto, cleaning the sea bass, I began to assemble the dish. Thirty minutes later, as our four fishermen finished their first course of organic gazpacho with Feta and virgin olive oil, their pesce was served.  After the ‘oohs and aahhs’, silence reigned as they quite obviously enjoyed their dish. (Although I would like to take full credit for its success, the kudos go to the Neapolitans who for centuries have mastered the art of simple, yet elegant dishes; and of course, the tasty corvina.)

Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Cala Mia Style)

Ingredients:  

Fresh fish…the best is flaky fish like halibut, snapper, bass or grouper.

Garlic

Firm, ripe tomatoes

Italian Parsley

Zucchini

Capers

Kalamata Olives (optional)

Leeks

Virgin Olive Oil

Sea salt and white pepper

[Although this recipe is designed for cooking whole fish, I have adjusted it to individual-serving stoneware  oven-to-table dishes.]

Brush the ramekins with olive oil.

Cut fish into 1″ chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Layer the ramekins with thinly sliced leeks, zucchini and a touch of minced garlic.

Place the fish chunks on top of the vegetables.

Place thinly sliced tomatoes over the fish.

Sprinkle with minced parsley, a bit of diced kalamata olives and capers (rinse both well to remove excess brine).

Drizzle with olive oil and cover for the oven.

Note: The dish will appear somewhat dry, however, after 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the fish will be simmering in a lovely bath of ‘crazy water’. Do not overcook!

Bon appetit! Chef Kate

Dust off that Fly Rod! Spring is almost here…sort of!

March 2nd, 2011

Ahh…the smell of spring is in the air! Well, not quite yet, but it isn’t too early to dust off your fishing rod and make your “Winter Is Over!” plans for visiting Swan Lake and the Horse. Our popular Spring Fisherman’s Getaway is back! Join us between May 20th and June 29th for our all-inclusive package for two: 2 night’s lodging with dinner and breakfast, and complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival…for only $259! And don’t forget to bring the pup – non-smoking dogs welcome!

[When making your secure on-line reservations, please write 'Spring Specia'l in the Notes. You will receive a price-adjusted confirmation by email within 48 hours.]

Ceviche De Angosta con Pomelo, Simple Elegance in the Wilderness

March 1st, 2011

A Pacific  storm has circled Cala Mia and Isla Boca Brava, the freshening breeze dropping the temperature to near tropical perfection. It is the first day in a month without sun, and I am happy for the change.

The morning begins well before sunrise with a boat ride  to Boca Chica to meet up with Chef Ricardo who is taking me on my first shopping expedition in the provincial town of David. There are no large grocery stores in David  thus our first stop of the morning is a triple wide garage off a residential side street filled with the morning’s fresh produce…melons, peppers, yucca, papaya, guava, pineapple and a variety of lettuces and cabbages overflow boxes and bins. There is a riot of color and chaos reigning in the aisles as farmers bring in their offerings, trading or selling fresh carrots and broccoli, bartering still warm jugs of milk and cream for a bag of butter beans or squash. As I walk around and select what I want to use in the restaurant for the next week, I am amused by the dichotomy of this market experience and those experienced last fall during my trip to Languedoc. Like produce, familiar Latinate faces, but there the similarities end.

The European markets are masterpieces of visual splendor…it is not enough to have a stack of carrots for sale at the Menton halle, no, the carrots have to be laid out in an intricate design, framed by vivid aubergines and the delicategreen gold of artichokes – each farmer’s display trying to out do that of his neighbors’.  In the David market, no such attempt is made. This is a working man’s tiende, the only real display being one of beautiful bags of garlic – grown in China.

But at the end of the day, a carrot is a carrot and a pomelo (grapefruit) will taste the same whether it was crowded in a burlap bag in Panama, or in a geometrically perfect pyramid interspersed with vibrant purple plums in France. So the carrots and the pomelos and a dozen or more relatives are bagged up and loaded into the back of a rented white Kia work truck and off we go to the Super Baru – a combination general store offering hardware, groceries, clothing and butchery…a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything (except Olive Oil of which there are 27 varieties!).

 It takes two hours going up and down and back up the aisles translating labels and doing menu exchanges in my head to get close to what I want and am envisioning for the dining room in the coming week when it is my turn to head up the kitchen.

Another hour to check out and then back to Boca Chica to meet up with Chombo and the Cala Mia boat.

Loading fresh produce onto Chombo's boat.

When I consider the physical difficulty of getting raw ingredients to this isolated island, the dedication of Cala Mia’s owners and staff to presenting exceptional food is singularly inspiring.

Well, the sky is darkening and a few stars are peaking through the remaining clouds…it is time to head to the kitchen and begin assembling tonight’s offering. Chef has asked me to create a first course using locally harvested lobsters and I am happy to oblige, especially since I have those beautiful pomelos…

Ceviche de Angosta con Pomelo

Ingredients: 

Freshly poached lobster tail, chilled and loosely diced in large chunks

Grapefruit segments, skins and seeds removed

Cilantro (minced)

Red and Yellow Peppers (demeated), minced

Garlic, minced

Red Onion, minced

Lime juice

Passion Fruit juice

Olive Oil

Salt and White Pepper

Hot Pepper Flakes

Arugula and Mustard Greens

Toss cilantro, peppers, garlic and onion with the lime and passion fruit juices, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and pepper flakes. Chill for an hour to let the flavors meld. Toss in lobster and grapefruit segments and refrigerate for another hour, stirring occasionally.

Place fresh greens in the bottom of  large martini glasses, leaving a few sprigs sticking out as garnish. Place ceviche into the glasses, distributing the remaining liquid as a dressing for the greens. Serve immediately

Bon apetite!

Finding the luxury of peace and quiet…in Panama and Montana.

February 17th, 2011

Cala Mia Sunrise

When it comes to exotic travel, the words ‘luxury’, ‘5 star’ and ‘deluxe’ take on different shades of meaning. Everything is ‘relative’ after all and no more so when exploring the fringes of civilization  (and that includes the Swan Valley of NW Montana!)

During one of my winter explorations a few years back, I took on the responsibility of managing a self-proclaimed 5 star resort on a tiny, basically unknown island in the Dutch West Indies. The website was alluring with beautifully staged photos of beautiful people looking at beautiful scenery, drinking beautiful drinks and eating beautiful food…all in all, pretty darn beautiful…and with a rate sheet to match.

The sad reality however, was simply that, sad. The owners couldn’t or wouldn’t see that their 5 star resort was barely clinging to 2 stars. Yes, the position of the hotel 2000’ up on the cliffs over a wild, wind-whipped beach offered a 280 degree of the Caribbean – spectacular. Yes, it was the only property on island that boasted both a tennis court and a fresh water pool, both now in less than pristine condition. And yes, the rooms were spacious and cool with breath-taking views from every angle. But. And it was a very big but…the paint was peeling, the curtains and linens frayed and bleached by too much sun, mildew creeping into every corner, the dining room looking like a nursing home cafeteria…you get the picture…and I was the extent of the staff. But the owners didn’t, and were still trying to charge upwards of $500 a night…a rate that on any of the sister islands within a short boat ride would have truly gotten you 5 star luxury in the form of 600 count Egyptian cotton linens, room service, elegant dining and a professional and discreet staff.

Once the owners handed over the property and left for their vacation, I dug in with some really deep cleaning, painting and scavenging the best furniture, art and linens to make at least three of the rooms, the lobby and the dining room somewhat approach luxury…my goal was simple…try to meet the expectations of those few people who had made reservations during my tenure. I also implemented a procedure whereby the guests, upon lighting from their taxi, were given a ‘beautiful’ tropical cocktail and walked out to the pool deck with that stunningly ‘beautiful’ view. My hope (and it worked pretty well) was that the ‘Wow!’ factor would blind them to the reality of the rest of the property.

But that was then and this is now…and ‘now’ finds the Horse tucked away safely under the winter snow and me on an isolated Pacific island off the coast of Panama – Isla Boca Brava in the Archipelago Chiriqui – working at Boutique Hotel Cala Mia (which means My Coast in Castellan). Before arriving at the hotel, I wondered if their ‘beautiful’ website would stand up to reality…and I have not been disappointed.

Perched on a peninsula with both sunrise and sunset, between the waves of the Pacific and a lovely bay, the hotel would be considered luxurious by any standards. The luxury of Cala Mia is not however in 600 count sheets or over-the-top room amenities… the sense of luxury comes from the care that the owners Max and Vittoria have lavished on their little corner of paradise. From the individually designed bungalows redolent of Tuscany in their warm colors and soft contours (each with unlimited hot water on demand), to the personal responsibility they have taken in making this tropical escape as environmentally friendly as possible with complete solar power, recycling and an organic farm producing probably the only truly traditional Dutch Gouda in all of central and south America.  The couple,  full-time residents of Panama for 16 years, have also committed themselves and the resources of both the hotel and the farm to supporting several indigenous families of Ngobe by donating a percentage of sales to the groups and providing jobs (a rarity on the island).

Guests stepping from the water taxi (the only way to arrive at Cala Mia) are greeted by another form of luxury…a well-trained, attentive, yet discrete staff* that seems to know what you want before you do. Upon delivering your bags to your ocean or bay view bungalow (no check in required), the staff quietly disappears leaving you to discover what true luxury is…quiet…no cell phones, no TVs, no clocks, and nothing more pressing than making sure you remember that dinner is served at 7:30.  

[*A caution for celebrities considering a vacation to the island…Cala Mia will be good for your soul but not for your ego – most likely you won’t be recognized – no less bothered for an autograph!]

If you can tear yourself away from the simple pleasure of sitting on your private patio looking out onto a blue-green horizon shadowed with more islands and towering cumulous clouds scudding by like sailing galleons, you’ll discover a jungle echoing with the eerie chatter of howler monkeys and rare birds calling to each other in the tree tops. Jeweled butterflies flit through the undergrowth, as colorful as the traditional Ngobe dresses worn by the smiling women who care for your room each day. And if the pure sybaritic pleasure of doing nothing tires, open air activities abound – horseback riding, hiking, fishing, diving, and kayaking.

I’ll be on island at Cala Mia for the next six weeks, welcoming a unique group of travelers who have made their way here for something that has become a rarity in our fast-paced lives…the simple pleasure of simply being.

I look forward to returning home to the Horse in April and preparing it for your summer visit…and to sharing with you the luxuries of Montana and the simple pleasures of the Horse.

Kathleen

This Christmas, We’re Going to the Dogs!

November 28th, 2010

 What’s a snowy white Christmas without a leisurely ride with your very own team of ardent sled dogs? Not quite perfect! And here at the Horse, we are all about providing a picture postcard perfect Christmas for you complete with wonderful food, cozy rooms and your very own sled dog experience.  Join us December 25th for one of Chef Kate’s memorable Christmas Suppers featuring roasted organic goose, sugar-cured ham and all of the traditional trimmings, then settle into your warm and cozy room for an exceptional night’s rest. In the morning, you’ll be greeted with a hot cup of Montana Coffeee Traders French Roast and a delicious breakfast … and then the real fun begins! You’ll meet the snow-loving pups of Base Camp Bigfork for a leisurely ride through a winter wonderland, or if you’re up for some real adventure, you can learn to mush your own team!   This special package for $269  is limited to seven couples only (your pup is welcome too).  To secure your Christmas Sled Dog Adventure, call 406-886-2080 today.

Not willing ‘to go to the dogs’? Please join us for Christmas Supper. $35 per person, one seating only at 5pm, December 25, call 406-886-2080 to make your secured reservations.

Rob Quist Song Writer’s Workshop Moved to October 29th & 30th at the Horse.

October 14th, 2010

Join Montana’s official Troubadour, Rob Quist  for a weekend of fun and interactive skill enhancement for beginning and intermediate song writers.

Enhance your writing and communication skills in this dynamic and interactive workshop that will guide you through the song creation process: identifying literary devices, using alliteration, simile, metaphor, creative license, figurative language, personification, symbolism, imagery and repetition. Students will be able to immediately apply their honed skills in a casual concert setting on Saturday evening in the intimate dining room at the Horse.
Workshop: $175
Meal and lodging package available, contact Kathleen.

The Horse Featured in AAA’s Via Magazine!

September 29th, 2010

“It’s all about the food!” and this fall readers of AAA’s Via Magazine shouted that loud and clear. From Kirkland, Washington to Swan Lake, Montana readers of Via wrote to tell of their favorite breakfast and brunch places in the Northwest. Montana rated three cafes -yours truly the Laughing Horse Lodge, Main Street Overeasy in Bozeman and the Stray Bullet Cafe in Ovando.  So take a ride this Sunday down to Swan Lake -the fall colors are spectacular- and enjoy some delicious fare including Huckleberry Peach Pancakes, Huckleberry Chevre Stuffed French Toast and the best omelet you’ve ever had!

Sunday Brunch at the Horse runs from 9am to 2pm. Reservations for parties of 5 or more are required due to limited seating.

A Cowboy’s New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Horse

September 23rd, 2010

Back by popular demand!

 Join us at the Horse for our Eastern Standard Time Cowboy New Year’s Eve Dinner and Dance! Yes, you can celebrate the beginning of a new year and still be home safe by midnight (or at another party!).

You and your friends will enjoy a 5 course meal prepared by Chef Kate including a champagne toast with the fall of the ball in Times Square. You’ll also enjoy listening and dancing to the western rhythm of Joe Zambrano and Blue Smoke. So put on your dancing boots and bring your appetite for a fun and light evening at the Horse.

$159/couple. Secured reservations required.

Overnight lodging available, $105/double occupancy including a delicious breakfast in the morning.

Limited seating, so make your reservations early!

Canadians Celebrate Thanksgiving at the Horse, October 8-11

September 23rd, 2010

Our neighbors to the north are invited to enjoy a delightful two night stay over the Canadian Thanksgiving (le Jour d’Action de grâce) Weekend, October 8 -11, in beautiful Swan Lake, Montana. Your holiday package includes  two nights of lodging, welcome bottle of wine, two breakfasts and two dinners for two for only $259.  A traditional Canadian Thanksgiving Supper featuring organic local produce and meats will be presented on Sunday, October 10th at 7pm. Book securely at www.laughinghorselodge.com (write in Canada Thanksgiving) in the note line, or call 406-886-2080. Secured reservations required.

Enjoy Thanksgiving Supper at the Horse this Year!

September 23rd, 2010

The Horse is your holiday destination for a scrumptious Thanksgiving Supper. Join us for a three course traditional (well, as traditional as Kathleen can get!) meal at 4pm or 7pm on Thursday, November 25th. Two seatings only. Secured reservations required. $29 per person.

Ranked #1 on the independent www.tripadvisor.com, your holiday meal is sure to be memorable at the Horse.