Tag Archives: food

“I’m not so much a cook as I am an artist”

14 Mar

One of my favorite new websites is TasteSpotting.com, an aggregator of food blogs with a beautiful layout and photos that get your salivary glands pumping. For the last couple weeks, Garibaldi has been consuming much of my kitchen time (jobs: what a bummer), but I make time at least once a day to just click through the front page, where the most recent submissions are posted in a smorgasbord of recipes.

I’ve had lots of luck with the handful of things I’ve tried from TasteSpotting, and my list of bookmarked recipes to try grows almost every day. My timid food-blogging attempts are a direct result of this website. I have to say though, sometimes it gets a bit outrageous. Truffled celery root and potatoes puree. Hazelnut, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate ganache tarts. Cheesy chive bread with walnuts and white pepper. Almond-pulp crackers (gluten-free). Caramelized bananas and fig oatmeal. Yes, they all sound delicious (except for maybe those crackers). Yes, I admire these bloggers’ creativity. No, I will not be trying any of them.

I’m a simple girl. I’m not above dehydrated pasta and a jar of sauce, even on a weekend night. I have served friends beans knowing the bottom of the pot was stuck half-an-inch thick with charred beans. I don’t think they think any less of me; they have come back around.

I felt quite able to relate to a New York Times’ columnist who signed up for a Brooklyn food exchange and felt her chocolate chip cookies and samoa bars were a little underdressed sitting next to bottles of vodka infused with organic pine needles and jars of candied tangelo peels.

Tonight’s going to be a pasta-and-jar-of-sauce kind of night. I’m under the weather (thanks, babies) and behind on this editing project, Colin has class until 8:30, and Noel arrives tomorrow evening. After that, I plan to be eating quite well—in restaurants all over Italy.

Ghosts of diets past

8 Jan

It was a simple enough comment to overhear: “Do you want a sandwich?”

Suddenly I’m craving a marvelous stacked creation. Sliced turkey, crunchy veggies, ripe tomatoes, pesto spread, cheddar cheese, good soft bread.

I could make it happen here. Thanks to Jane, I know how to make a darn good loaf of bread that would be honored to be a part of any sandwich activity. I brag frequently about the produce stalls literally spilling onto the sidewalks near my apartment. I’m in Italy—the land of pesto!

But it’s winter now, and a nice tomato is hard to come by. Yesterday, while I was still nurturing the craving, I idled in front of the lunchmeat cooler at the supermarket, a foreign land: Hmm, €2,58 for 6, no 5, slices of turkey… Hard to swallow, but nothing compared to the absurd cost of cheddar here, when you can find it. There’s plenty of tuna around, but I’ve given up on the poor endangered fish.

I would make killer veggie sandwiches in Santa Barbara, but I hardly remember how now. I missed them sorely while we were in Taiwan, but I admit the feeling faded when we got to the land of hot, open-faced, cheesy sandwiches (aka pizzas) in August. But now, as everyone around me (except the Italians) is complaining of pasta fatigue, it might be time to buy a round of sandwich fixings and do something about this craving.


25 Nov

Bologna is hosting a chocolate festival this week. It opened on Wednesday and I’ve gone twice already. Yes, both days that it’s been open. Yes, I’ve bought chocolate both times. No, I don’t have photos to show you because my camera hasn’t been in my purse where it normally lives. Yes, I intend to go back, so I’ll try to remember my camera that time (tomorrow, probably).

It’s right down the street! How can I not go? Most of the chocolatiers hand out free samples if you look long enough or show up with three other American girls. Not so much with a baby stroller.

In addition to the chocolate-dipped dried pear and pineapple ring and the assortment of artisan candies I brought home, I took something else from this festival: a new professional aspiration of crafting chocolate animals. I know, you need pictures.

Pasta like my mamma does it

21 Nov

Well, not my mamma, but Italian mammas. Allegedly. Jane, who teaches English to a class of Italians, said one of her students told her she makes all her pasta by hand and that other students chorused that that’s how their mothers do it.

So for our Wednesday cooking gathering this week, we attempted lasagna made with homemade noodles. It was only Pei, Jane, and me, but even doing it on my big wooden table and fully-functioning stove, it would have been tight with another.

Pei and Jane made a bolognese sauce for their lasagne, complete with a combined four pounds of meat. Poor Colin would have to be satisfied with my glorified tomato sauce (sauteed onions and garlic + oregano + parsley + splash of wine + 700 gr tomato sauce + salt and pepper).

Then the main event, the noodles. Jane had learned how to make them in a recent cooking class, so once again she played instructor. We built our flour volcanoes and scrambled in our eggs. (Pasta ingredients are easy! For 1 serving, you need 100 grams of flour and 1 egg.)

I got a double yolk! It didn't affect my ratio too much, though.

It got messy fast. You’re supposed to contain your eggs to the flour bowl for as long as possible, but Pei’s broke through right away. Then it’s a race to incorporate the flour and eggs before everything runs off the cutting board.

Knead the dough until it’s quite stiff, then let it rest for about 15 minutes. When you come back to your dough, divide it by servings (I used three eggs, so I made three balls), knead a little more flour in, then go to work with your rolling pin or empty wine bottle.

Roll and fold, roll and fold, roll and fold, roll and fold, rest. Repeat. It’s a real workout! Meanwhile I’ve got a box of no-bake lasagna noodles in my pantry. When your dough gets to noodle thinness, slice it with a sharp knife into whatever width noodles you need.

At this point in the night, we’d been working for three and a half hours, our work areas were a mess, and only one of the three lasagne was built. I had noodles and sauce but no filling, and Pei was still working on her dough. Unfortunately, Colin and I had another cooking activity that we needed to get to, so everyone quickly cleaned up and hustled out the door with whatever lasagna pieces they had.

Colin and I were going to the SAIS cooking club’s brunch for dinner event, and I was bringing the fixings for Mommy’s Pull-Apart Sticky Buns. Mom was unfortunately out of town and unreachable by email, so I got a similar recipe from Grandma and just winged it.

Oh man, were they a hit. With Colin’s help, my dish was the first done, and everyone dug in while the buns were still mouth-burning hot.

The next day I finished building my lasagna with roasted eggplant and zucchini and a ricotta filling, and we shared it with another veggie friend. I used this recipe for pumpkin lasagna, just switching out eggplant for the pumpkin puree. It tasted great, but not because of the noodles.

Colin and I finished the leftover noodles for lunch on Friday, but that was an ordeal of its own—my uncooked noodles had reattached in the fridge after two nights there. With just a simple pasta sauce, it was a lot more noticeable that we were eating homemade noodles, but there was definitely the lingering taste of the hassle of the whole process.

Grandma’s Pull-Apart Sticky Buns
2 cans of biscuits, or 1 bag of premade pizza dough
1 C butter, melted
½ C sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ C nuts, optional

Toss the nuts in the bottom of a bundt pan. Separate dough into ~ping-pong-ball-sized clumps and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place in bundt pan. Pour melted butter over the whole mess. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Invert onto a plate and serve; do not serve as shown in my picture.

Open season on squash

3 Nov

Halloween has long been a favorite holiday of mine; I’ve always attributed that to the dressing up and eating more candy than this website will allow me to calculate. Roommate Kristen pointed out another reason to love Halloween: it kicks off the whole festive, food-laden season.

Without any Thanksgiving holiday to break things up here, home furnishing stores on Via Santo Stefano have put up their Christmas displays. One clothing shop had obviously taken All Saints’ Day on Monday off, leaving the witch hats on the mannequins until even this evening, but right next door, white Christmas trees glistened under the lights—a bit jarring on this balmy night.

In honor of the fall season in general, I participated in a squash challenge offered by a gigantic butternut squash I purchased. Last week’s squash lasagna was the first contest; Halloween dinner was squash risotto (which got disappeared before a photo could be snapped); and tonight I made squash, caramelized onion, and mushroom stromboli.


The challenge


Confession: There’s still about a cup of squash puree in the freezer, and not all of the stromboli filling fit inside the dough I had, so it’ll probably get turned into pasta leftovers for lunch. There is plenty of inspiration left at Food52, which recently held a butternut squash recipe contest of its own, but for now, filled to the point of uncomfortableness with butternut squash, I’m calling this challenge over.

Life’s funny that way

21 Oct

If someone had told me back in 2007 that in three years’ time, a woman with views that I passionately oppose would be a “feminist” (I like this link better), and that I would be over-the-moon excited to pull my first loaf of homemade bread out of the oven, I probably would have laughed out loud.


Under Jane's watchful eye, Melody and Leah mix their dough.



Leah takes notes while our braided loaves rest.



My first bread baby paired with curried squash soup.


Can I come back next Saturday?

3 Oct

After a late night of slow-food dining and celebrating a SAIS birthday, Colin and I dragged ourselves from under our heavy bedcovers and joined a group of laborers to catch an 8:15 bus on Saturday. Our group of eleven was headed to the hills on the edge of Bologna, about a 30-minute bus ride away, to do some grape-picking.

We were outfitted with shears and shown the basics. In pairs we moved along the rows, dropping heavy bunches of purple grapes into red crates. Discussions about human rights activism and America’s influence in the Middle East were interrupted with squeals about spiders and lizards and a snake that turned out to be an earthworm.

Grape-less vines

We reckoned we’d filled about thirty crates, which someone had been told would make about 300 bottles of wine. Reassured that we’d done a good half-day’s work, our group sat down for a three-course lunch on the back lawn. The family we had worked for brought out tagliatelle al ragu that smelled so good a starving vegetarian (not me) dug in without realizing it was made of meat, then decided to keep eating once she found out. The second courses were bell peppers and zucchini stuffed with ground meat. I got a bowl of penne, bell peppers, and ricotta all to myself. Dessert was peach torte on a chocolate crust and brownies, and finished up just in time to rush back to the bus so I could get to work on time.

"I don't think I've ever had a more pleasant outdoor-eating experience."

Italy is wonderfully obliging

26 Sep

Especially when it comes to living up to expectations. Most of those stereotypes that people hold in their head about Italy have turned out to be based on reality. For example, everyone actually eats gelato, from school kids to businessmen. That’s pretty much all they eat during the day, as the huge number of cigarettes they smoke dulls their appetites. They actually live a slower pace of life, closing for a three-hour siesta every day after lunch.

And they don’t mess around with dinner. Colin and I went with Jane, Lars, and Justin to the Osteria Broccaindossa on Friday night for a wonderful exercise in stuffing ourselves.

The waiters brought out at least eight different antipasti dishes, including deep-fried baguette with sautéed zucchini, mini eggplant parmigiana, bean salad, green salad, cheese with a little comfiture, beans and wienies, and a couple different quiches. Those were the appetizers.

Then they brought out meat-filled tortellini in broth, cheese-filled tortelloni in a butter-sage sauce, and tagliatelle with ragu. Since I couldn’t help with the meat pastas, they pushed almost all of the tortelloni my direction.

Stuffed though I was, there was no way I was passing on il dolce. Jane and I selected the crème caramel and the cream puffs with dark chocolate sauce, and the boys only just managed a few nibbles. Absolutely delicious.

I know there are dozens of restaurants in Bologna that we should try, but I’m already thinking of excuses to go back to Osteria Broccaindossa. Will someone come to visit already?

Normally in these situations, I would call Mom

23 Sep

Unfortunately that’s just not an option right now. During my sophomore year of college, the first time I was responsible for managing my own kitchen, phone calls to Mom leading right up to dinnertime were a frequent occurrence.

I really enjoy cooking, but it also stresses me out a little bit. I get sorta flustered. And I still rely pretty heavily on the experience of Mom and the Grandmas for the dishes I learned from them.

Italy doesn’t make the whole process easier. I admire the intimacy of small shops that specialize in fruit or cheese or bread or wine, but it makes it difficult when I’m searching for something a little different—like ground coriander, or elastics for my hair. Of course there are supermarkets, and they usually stock what you need or something close enough, but I struck out looking for the spices I need to make Mom’s refried beans yesterday.

Yup, that's a mortar. Somewhere nearby is a pestle.

"Hey Mom? Is it supposed to look like this?"

I also knew I wouldn’t find cheddar or jack cheese here (for less than €30/kg), so I found an Italian cheese listed as a substitute for jack cheese and went looking for that. No luck, but the cheese man suggested another kind—a substitution for my substitution. They turned out pretty good; no photos, as beans aren’t overly photogenic.

Usually I’m my own worst enemy in the kitchen. For example, today I made a spinach-ricotta pie to take to a potluck tonight, and I completely forgot to take the rolled dough out of the freezer until I was ready to pop everything in the oven. Two hours of thawing time? Merda.

Faster, faster!

Cheese, please!

21 Sep

It’s been too long since the last update, I know. You can blame my current read, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, borrowed from a guy in Colin’s program. It’s a really good read, compelling enough that I keep reading long after I should go to bed, rich enough that I want to stop and put it down for a few hours so I can digest. It’s an omniscient narrator, probably God, and Russell gives enough hints to make sure readers get it. Some readers might find that annoying—I have with other works—but she found a good balance for me.

Plot? The first mission to meet intelligent creatures living on another planet. The astronauts are missionaries sent by the Catholic Church, as well as a few (more) brains to ensure they survive the trip. The chapters alternate between the trip and the months after the return of only one survivor.

I’ve been busy with other stuff too. Our soccer match ended in a draw on Thursday night, ensuring peace in the house until the championship tournament comes around in a few weeks.

And a group of us went to Parma on Saturday to attend the Festival del Prosciutto. I abstained, opting for a pizza, some legit Parmigianino cheese, and a glass of sparkling red wine. In our group was a girl who’d grown up in Parma, and she made a wonderful guide.

The crazy sun dials that we couldn't even try to figure out--cloud cover.

The star of the show.

No room under the tent, so we lunched on the stairs of a nearby church.

Rachel and I did a balsamic vinegar tasting after lunch.

And then we found a renaissance fair!

The ren fair came with a marching band.