Archives for category: Food

Or, the ten best…in Italian.  Here’s our top ten list from our Italian honeymoon.

10.  Our Itinerary:  Milan – Venice – Florence – Tuscan Countryside – Rome – Amalfi Coast.  I received some great recommendations from my cousin’s wife when I asked for her “ultimate itinerary” if she were to have 3 weeks in Italy.  She did not disappoint.  In most cities, it felt like the right length of time; and in Tuscany and Amalfi, we wished for even more.

Venice

A Typical Venetian Scene

9.  Old stuff.  Duomos, cobblestones, the Colosseum, ruins.  What better way to reminisce about all my art and architectural history classes than to see these places and pieces of art in person.

Ruins

Really old stuff, Rome

8.  Traveling by train.  What a way to go.  No security lines.  Watching the countryside fly by.  I wish the US had a train system like Europe (and that SF had a metro system like Milan!).

Stazione Milano Centrale

7.  Cappuccino.  Every morning.  And I don’t even drink coffee.  With only one exception, everywhere we stayed included breakfast, and I just could not resist saying, “Un cappuccino, per favore,” when the nice waiters came by.

Breakfast at Villa Podernovo, Tuscany

6.  Meeting up with familiar faces.  Our friend Nicco took us on a walking-eating-drinking tour around Florence, his home town, complete with childhood stories, and Chris’ cousin Melissa and her Italian boyfriend, Vincenzo, took us out for an amazing dinner in Rome – we didn’t have to order a thing.

familiar faces in far away places

5.  The wine.  Whether it was a Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany or the glass of Prosecco every night before dinner at our hotel on the Amalfi Coast, we were never disappointed.

Vino in Firenze

4.  The food.  I think we ate our weight in prosciutto and salami, more than our fair share of pizza, some amazing Risotto Milanese and a couple kickass sandwiches from the Mercato in Florence, but…we had some standout memorable meals – particularly our dinners at Trattoria Quattro Leoni and Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco in Florence, and our honeymoon finale at Le Sirenuse in Positano.  Huge thanks to our friends for the recommendations!

Happy Hour at Enoteca Gola e Cantina, Florence

3.  Gelato!  Favorite flavors were definitely pistachio for him and hazelnut for me, but we never met a flavor we didn’t like.  It became our daily ritual.  Walk around until we’re hot, get gelato, repeat.

Our very first gelato in Italy; would not be our last

2.  Villa Podernovo in Monticiano, Tuscany.  It was a beautiful villa (found via Agriturismo.it) in a teeny tiny village, but a perfect home base for exploring the nearby hill towns of Siena and San Gimignano.

Villa Podernovo

Villa Podernovo, aka heaven – our apartment was upstairs in this building

1.  The Amalfi Coast, by scooter… When the road is really only about one-lane wide, you definitely want the smallest, most agile vehicle.  We were so glad we rented a scooter for three of our days on the Amalfi coast.  Zipping to Positano or Amalfi for dinner, from our centrally located hotel in Praiano, was not only convenient, but so much fun!

Sunset from Praiano, looking towards Positano

La dolce far niente – “the sweetness of doing nothing” – really the best thing we learned in Italy, and what we hope to maintain, at least a little bit, in our lives back home.

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I have a new obsession.  It’s the biggest computer time suck since Tetris in the early 90s (for me, at least).  And I love it.  It’s called Pinterest.  Slap me if you’ve heard all this before, but it’s fairly new to me.  It is genius.  I’m sure I’m not the only one with a folder full of of inspiration images on my computer (and several binders-full, torn from magazines, on my bookshelves), but this great little website allows you to “pin” your favorite images from around the interwebs, with links to the original location (great for tracking things down later), and you can share them with friends who “follow” you.  You can also sort them into “boards,” which is great for categories like food, clothes, design, etc.  I really wish I had discovered this at the beginning of my wedding planning, instead of near the end, but hindsight…oh well.

Crack – well that’s one way to describe it.  I’d rather think of it as a place for all the pretty things.

Happy Friday!

Spring arrived a couple weeks ago, and then winter came back for a visit.  The wind is blowing like crazy, and the forecasters are calling for hail!  In this in-between-seasons time, it’s hard to decide what to cook.  Last week, I stumbled across this recipe for Fennel and Zucchini Soup on Epicurious.com, and it’s just the right thing – springy ingredients as comfort food.  Yum.  Not to mention, it’s super quick and easy with only a few ingredients.  Double yum.

Zucchini and Fennel Soup

I’ve now made this twice in two weeks.  What can I say?  I like having hot lunches at work, and this is so simple.  The second time, I added a diced yukon gold potato to the mix, and it added a nice creaminess to the texture without the fat of real cream.

Tomatoes for Garnish

Here’s another important thing to note, and I speak from experience…

Let the soup cool a bit before pureeing in the blender, and do it in very small batches, or you WILL be cleaning soup off every surface in your kitchen within a several foot radius.

Zucchini and Fennel Soup - ready to eat!

Happy Spring!

As predicted, the wine club theme was just a jumping off point, and while everyone asked about the theme when they arrived, we all quickly settled into eating, catching up, and deciding which wines were our favorites.  I had four to compare – a burgundy from France with a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a French Bordeaux blend with a Napa Valley Cabernet (see the end of the post for details on the wines*).  I think the California wines won out, but there were a few girls pulling for the French terroir. There were also a few favorites among the recipes.

Here’s the menu –

~ miso-glazed bacon wrapped asparagus (From Tyler Florence’s book, Family Meal, which I picked up for 20% off at our local Borders store that’s closing) – everything’s better with bacon, right?

~ sauteed Brussels sprouts with carmelized shallots, pecans and lemon zest (my own recipe)

~ “pigs in a blanket” – mild italian, spicy italian, and spinach & feta sausage with tarragon mustard (Also from Tyler’s book.  We’re on a first-name basis now, you see.)

~ macaroni and cheese with swiss chard (From Bon Appetit) – this one ended up being much better the next day, and the next…

~ jamaican banana bread – an old favorite that is, surprisingly, a Cooking Light recipe.  Not so surprisingly, I prefer to make it with real butter instead of margarine, real rum instead of extract, and about twice the amount of topping.

~ bittersweet chocolate pecan tart with bourbon whipped cream – from thekitchn.com.  I made it with pecans and Sharffenberger Semisweet Chocolate (62%).

The definite winners were the Brussels Sprouts, the Banana Bread and the Chocolate Pecan Tart.  The other big winner wasn’t edible or drinkable, it was our new sweatshirt!  Our “Director of Apparel” (we’re trying to come up with titles for everyone) came through with our new hoodies.  I must say, they’re so soft and comfy, I’ve already worn it several times.  Thanks R!  And thanks to all the girls/ladies for being what really makes wine club so great.

*  Here’s the list of wines:

1)  2008 Domaine Chicotot Bourgogne Rouge, $16.99

2)  Cazar 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $18.99

3)  2008 Reignac, Bordeaux Supérieur, $18.99

4)  Textbook 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon “Fin de Journee”, Napa Valley, $18.99

I bought all of them from K&L Wine Merchants here in San Francisco.  The gentleman there was SO helpful and very knowledgeable  – he could rattle off the details of just about everything in the store!  I explained what I was trying to do with my theme, and he had my wines selected within minutes – all while the power was out!

I have this great little circle of friends.  It’s one of a few circles, as I’m sure we all have.  The one I’m talking about tonight is one I call “wine club,” aka, SIP.  (Fear not Studio, I’m sure I’ll write about you someday.)

A few years ago, my friend M decided to start a monthly get together of women – like book club, only without the books. There are twelve of us, and each of us only hosts once a year.  So for eleven other Thursday nights, we just have to show up, no pressure, and enjoy some good wine, great food, and even better company.  It’s really evolved into such a wonderful event that I look forward to every month, with an extremely supportive group of smart and funny women.  The conversations always vary widely, and I never feel “stuck” talking to any one person, because there’s no one with whom I feel “stuck.”  It’s comforting.

There are only a few rules to help keep things running smoothly – like sending out invites two weeks in advance, and rsvp-ing at least a week before – common courtesy type things, but when it comes to the theme and what to serve, it’s wide open, as long as you can somehow relate it to wine.  We’ve had organic wines, specific varietals, specific regions or AVAs, sake, bubbly, France vs. California, wines all from one winery, blind tastings, South American, Italian, Eastern European, “Pink,” …the list goes on and on.  We’re in our third year, so it has become increasingly difficult to think up a new theme.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter, as we all just talk about which ones we each like best.  And, as we’ve discovered, it’s not really about the wine anyway, but still…I guess the designer in me likes to have a concept around which to organize myself.  Last year, I chose wines purely based on labels I liked.  Judging books by their covers, if you will.

This month is my turn again.  I first considered a “party like it’s 1999” theme, where I’d buy wine all from the same year.  If I couldn’t find 1999 wines, then perhaps we’d be partying like it’s 2004, but then I read on wikipedia that the concept of good vs. bad vintages may be up for some debate.  I suppose I could try a blind tasting of a good year vs. a bad year, but oh well, maybe next year.  What I’m leaning towards now is more like “everything old is new again.”  I can compare a specific varietal from an “old world” style with the same grape or blend done in the “new world.”  The food can be new twists on old favorites.  It seems to fit well with the current atmosphere of reinvention – doing more with less…

My goal this year is to actually photograph some of the process and the festivities.  If all goes as planned, I’ll be back with a follow-up.  Cheers!

I try to avoid failure.  I think most of us do.  The method I use is simple:  discontinue activities for which I have no natural proclivity.  Well, except for golf.  I suck at it, and yet I still keep trying, but then again, I hear that’s how it works.  So, no harm done.  But generally, this method has worked out pretty well so far.  Volleyball – good.  Slalom water skiing – not so good.  See?  Easy, right?  Just do the things you’re good at, or think you may get good at, and stay away from those things that cause you immediate and unwavering frustration.  I must admit, however, that there’s one thing recently that has gone against this “method.”  Like I said, generally.

I have failed, quite utterly and miserably, at making french macarons… three times.  For anyone familiar with the process, you understand.  If you’re new to this miniature ring of hell, allow me to elaborate.  I understand that baking is a lot about chemistry and proportion of ingredients – I get that – but these little guys are on another level entirely.

I can already tell where this is headed...

It’s a very simple recipe, or so it seems – sugar, ground almonds and egg whites – how hard can it be?  Uh, hard.  I’m only writing this post now, and posting pictures of the sad failures, because, after trial #4, it finally worked.  There are so many variables.  The proportions are so finely tuned, that they must be measured on a scale.  No scoop and level, no handful of this, pinch of that.  We’re talking down to the gram.  You have to use a metal bowl for the egg whites (preferably copper, but I went stainless steel) – the ceramic just didn’t cut it.  Oh, and don’t make them when it rains.  You need to leave them out to dry a bit before they go in the oven, so humidity is a surefire recipe for buzzkill.  And let’s not even get into the definition of “stiff, glossy peaks.”  How stiff?  (insert joke here) How glossy?

In my unsuccessful attempts, I tried three different recipes.  One from the book I heart macarons, and two more from various websites.  The final, fourth, recipe which shall be the basis for all future macaron-ing, I will share with you shortly.  Back to the not-so-happy attempts.  Two of the three, in hindsight, seem to have had the wrong proportions.

Embarrassing.

The third, from the lovely Tartelette, was probably perfectly fine (she’s quite the expert), but I probably should have used a metal bowl and waited for a less humid day.  I bet I didn’t age my egg whites enough either.  I still wasn’t ready to give up.  It’s like falling off the rock-climbing wall when you just know you can do it, and dang it, you’re not leaving until you do.  The winning recipe bolstered my confidence through copious explanations (most of you know I’d rather too much information than too little), lots of photos, a separate trouble-shooting guide, and let’s be honest about the best part – science.  C’mon, if you’ve got science on your side, how can you go wrong?

I weighed, I mixed, I piped, I waited, and I baked.  And the skies parted, and the angels began to sing…because, there in my oven, these little lovelies had grown feet!  Just like they’re supposed to!  Thank you Ms. Humble – you are my savior!  I will sing your praises to whomever will listen.  Right after I shove one of these little babies in their mouth.

Woohoo!

And the best part is what she calls the little rascally failures – if only I had known there was a term for it – macawrongs.

I realize it may be blasphemy to admit this, but here goes:  I’m kinda “red velveted out.”  I know.  I know.  I didn’t really think it possible, but given that the world is on a cupcake kick lately, I’ve baked me some red velvet, a lot – we’re talking full-sized layer cake, regular cupcakes, mini cupcakes, you name it.  There was the test run for Mom’s birthday.  Then the actual birthday.  Then we had a few other parties here and there.  There were the ones I made for work, and then the pink velvet cupcakes I made for a baby shower.  (Total side note  – I just  saw somewhere recently that the birth rate is dropping in this country.  I don’t know about you, but I seem to be in the midst of a baby BOOM.  Well, not personally, but it sure seems like everyone I know…well, there must be something in the water.  That’s all I’m saying).  Anyway, back to the cupcakes.  So, we were having a little get together for a coworker, a somewhat  non-traditional baby shower.  Dad-to-be was invited, it was in the evening, rather than brunch, and there was minimal gift opening, and no diaper games.  It was wonderful.  Being a potluck, I offered to make cupcakes (everybody loves cupcakes!), but I was determined to bake something besides red velvet.  Somehow, I got it in my head to make strawberry cupcakes.  Not sure where – it wasn’t like I’d seen them around lately or anything.  It was probably because I LOVE strawberries, and we’re finally starting to have some of that summer weather that makes strawberries make sense.  I did a little googling around for recipes and came across one that had some very positive reviews.  Here’s what I ended up making, with a little tweaking to make up for ingredients I couldn’t find (I couldn’t find strawberry liquor, so I substituted some strawberry jam and Cointreau).  Big thanks to Katie at Good Things Catered for the wonderful recipe.  They were a hit!  And the frosting…the frosting tastes like Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream.  It is soooo good.  I definitely recommend that you make these with the ripest, reddest, strawberries you can find.  I went with organic, just for a little extra insurance.

Oh, and if I’m going to be any good at this blogging thing, I’m going to have to take more (i.e., some) pictures.  Sorry ’bout that.

Oh, great – I think that makes double blasphemy, all in one post.

It was probably almost a year ago now, but it’s still clear in my mind…C & I were getting ready to go on a bike ride through Marin with our good friends, K & G.  We met up in Fairfax so that we could do a nice loop out to Point Reyes, for lunch, and back.  The sun was shining – it promised to be one of those gorgeous days that made you really happy to have plans outside.  Needing a little fuel before we started, C popped into the little coffee shop for a snack and came back with, what can only be described as,  the best granola bar ever.  Now, I realize that’s a bold statement.  It’s also a bold statement about a pretty unassuming snack food.  But still.  It had dried apricots.  And pumpkin seeds.  And cinnamon.  We fought over the last bite and even went back to get another one for the ride home.  It made me wonder why I ever spent money on Luna bars (Sorry Luna – you’re good, but c’mon, homemade?).

Since a weekly trip to Fairfax wasn’t a sensible option, I decided to try to recreate the magic at home.  I started by searching epicurious.com for something similar.  All I could find were some raisin and cardamom bars.  I’m not much of a raisin fan, but it was really the proportions I was after.  Several tries later, meanwhile testing them on willing guinea pigs, here’s where I ended up.  It’s still a bit more crumbly than the original, but I like that I can mix up the fruit and nut mix depending on my mood…and what’s in my kitchen cabinets.

Kristin’s Granola Bars (makes 24 squares)

  • 3 cups oats
  • 2/3 cup dried apricots – coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup pecans – toasted and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup almonds – roasted, unsalted, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds – toasted, chopped
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. cardamom
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar – packed
  • 5 Tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 13×9 inch baking dish with a sheet of parchment paper.  If you let the parchment hang over the long edges, you can use it to lift out the mixture after it has baked and cooled.  You can also butter the short sides to prevent sticking where the parchment doesn’t cover.

Combine oats, apricots, nuts and spices in a large bowl.  Stir until the ingredients are well distributed.

In a small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar and honey over medium heat until bubbly – stirring occasionally.  Pour mixture over oat mixture, stirring well to completely coat the dry ingredients.

Pour into parchment-lined baking dish.  Press firmly with the back of a spatula to compress mixture into pan (this will keep the bars from being so crumbly when you try to cut them).

Bake approximately 20 minutes in 350 degree oven until golden-brown – don’t allow the apricots to burn.  Once mostly cool, you can use the parchment to lift the bars out of the dish to finish cooling.  Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.  Store in closed container in the refrigerator to keep; best served at room temperature.

Feel free to experiment with other nuts, seeds, dried fruits (mmm…dried cranberries?) – as long as you keep to the general proportions of dry to wet ingredients.  I’ve even thrown in a little coconut I had lying around, just for fun.