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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Salad in a Jar

I really enjoy a good salad, especially at lunch. However, it can be a big pain trying to bring a salad from home.  If you put the dressing on in the morning, the spinach or lettuce leaves will wilt by the time you eat it. It’s terrible and disgusting when you  have wilted salad.
I’ve brought vinegar with me, but bottles get bulky and heavy in a bag.
Then I remembered seeing a brilliant idea somewhere online. I really wish I could remember where I had seen it because I would definitely thank the originator of salad in a jar. 

It’s a brilliant solution. All of your salad ingredients go into one tall glass jar and everything stays fresh. There is a trick to it of course. You can’t just throw the ingredients in all willy nilly.
Liquids have to go closest to the bottom. I started my first salad in a jar with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar reduction, salt pepper and oregano. Then I added a healthy layer of chickpeas and then quartered cherry tomatoes. On top of all that, I placed a couple of thin slices of pancetta and then I tore up fresh spinach. I almost entirely filled my jar to the top. I left just enough space for a hardboiled egg sliced and dosed with a little salt and pepper.  Then I sealed it and put it in the fridge for the next day.
At work all I had to do was shake and eat. I chose to pour the salad onto a plate since I had filled the jar to the utter brim.

It was delicious and the spinach still amazingly crisp. When I go back to work after break I'm definitely going to have to try all sorts of variations and see how they come out.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Restaurant Review Rome: Gelati & Mozzarella

I hadn’t had gelato in a while mostly because I’m too busy running around for work. I have had a sundae from McDonald but that certainly doesn’t count as gelato. And yes, I know, terrible. I’m in the land of gelato and really amazing food and I got a McDonald’s Sundae on my way home from work . My only excuse is that it was really late and I hadn’t had dinner yet. I needed something to get through the 20 minute walk home and nothing else cheap and easy was available. It was a fail but necessary. 
So the other day, while on a relaxing vacation walk, I finally had a chance to try the gelateria that my
housemate Adele has been raving about for months. I was a little dubious because it’s called Gelati & Mozzarella.  What does mozzarella have to do with ice cream? Nothing, right?
Well, I finally got there and I understand now.  There is a type of mozzarella in Italy (in the states too, but not as well known) called mozzarella di bufala and it’s made with the milk of the domestic water buffalo. It is traditional in the south of italy and is incredibly rich and creamy. It's considered one of, if not the best kind of mozzarella around.
 So this ice cream shop makes gelato using buffalo milk, hence the name.
They had a lot of incredible looking flavors, most of which were made with buffalo. I tried the stracciatella (cookies and cream) made with buffalo, cuore di cioccolato (heart of chocolate aka more dark chocolate than any normal person can handle) and the pera e cioccolato (pear and chocolate). Delicious, Delicious, Delicious!
The ice cream was incredibly creamy and rich, just how I like it. I got the €3 cup and it was just the right amount for me but if you can’t handle a lot of richness a €2 cup should be enough for you. The texture of the gelato was smooth and wonderful. 
I really enjoyed the cuore di cioccolato because it’s the darkest, deepest dark chocolate I think I’ve ever seen (they even have a regular dark chocolate flavor). It’s rich and smooth but for me, it wasn’t overwhelming. It was like hot fudge in ice cream form.  The stracciatella was also quite good.  I tried it to see about the bufala and it was great. It was just as creamy as I could have hoped.  But I have to say that my absolute favorite was the pera and cioccolato. It was light and creamy but not too sweet.  It was mostly pear flavored gelato with a hint of chocolate. It was divine and paired really well with the other flavors too.

There’s a small bar near the window to eat your ice cream or your pastries (they also do amazing pastries) but I chose to walk and eat since it was crowded when I was there. It really is adorable inside and their pastries and sweets look quite delicious. I really wanted to try a bit of everything, but I’ll have to save it for another time.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Restaurant Review Rome: Taberna Persiana

I’d never eaten Persian food before a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think there are many Persian restaurants in my area, or maybe I’m just under informed. If that’s the case, I definitely have to inform myself so that when I’m home in August I can eat some Persian food even there.
The walls were a deep orange and gold with turquoise and red paintings. Gorgeous
Our table setting with pitcher of white wine. 
A couple of weeks ago Endira and I were trying to decide where to eat out. It was a Friday night and we hadn’t thought to make a reservation and we kind of wanted to try something new (rather than going to Novecento  or one of the other 2 restaurants that we normally wind up at). We decided to try Taberna Persiana. It’s been intriguing to me since I first spotted it back in November but I hadn't gotten around to trying it.  It’s really close to the station and therefore also only a twenty minute walk from my apartment, which was nice because we wound up sitting and chatting till around midnight (a sure sign of a good restaurant).
We walked in and were greeted by beautiful, rich colors that were at once charming and comforting. There were opulent oranges, golds, and turquoises with accents of warm and earthy browns all over the room.  The lighting was mellow and really picked up richness of all the color. Our server sat us down in a cove-like window and was quite nice.  I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and then the amazing flavors and presentation of the food.
Hummus and flatbread.
We started off with hummus (written homus on the menu). It was delicious but quite different from the hummus I’ve generally seen in the states. It was just as light and creamy but made with sesame and mint in addition to chickpeas.  The mint was incredibly refreshing and delicious with the chickpeas and it really complimented the sesame as well. The hummus was served with very thin, warm slices of flat bread.  I actually would have loved to get a container to go so I could eat it with warm schiacciata or on sandwiches with prosciutto.
My amazing and beautiful chicken dish.
For my main meal I got a chicken dish called Zareshk Polò. I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce it, but it was absolutely delicious.  It was served with white and yellow rice covered with crushed pistachios and barberries which are sweet but slightly sour red berries. I’ve never seen them in the states but they’re lovely. They added a beautiful richness and contrast to the savory aspects of the dish.  The chicken was dark and light meat served in a lovely sauce made with saffron, almonds, and pistachios. I’m not sure how the sauce was made but it was utterly delicious.  It was beautifully
seasoned and I really enjoyed the flavor, especially when paired with the barberries.  The chicken was tender and juicy and just the right sized portion. It was utterly delicious and I would definitely get it again because for as filling as it was it was still light.
Endira got a meat dish that was kind of like gyro and it was also quite delicious. She got the Qashqal which was two skewers, one of Kubideh (lamb and ground beef) and one of Juheh (chicken).  It also came with a very large plate of white and yellow rice.  Endira’s was quite good but I personally liked my dish better because I really enjoy that combination of savory with a hint of sweetness.
We were really full so we didn’t get any dessert or coffee but we wound up sitting around chatting and finishing our jug of wine in tranquility. We weren’t rushed out which was lovely.  I also enjoyed that at around 11pm a very large group came in for dinner, including children. I believe they were Persian but they were having a wonderful time.  It was a lot of fun watching the wait staff balance and perfectly manage the large table even with the frenetic behavior of all the kids.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Recipe: Grilled cheese with scamorza, apple and speck

Oh, more grilled cheese.  The possibilities are endless and I never get tired of playing around with the options.
For this sandwich, I decided to use the speck and smoked scamorza that I'd used to make the Cauliflower and Speck Quiche last week.  I also used 1/2 an apple to add some crispness and a bit of sweetness to combat the saltiness of the speck.  It was delicious.

2 slices bread
finely sliced scamorza
butter (approximately 3 pats)
1/2 apple, sliced thinly

Layer the scamorza and apple slices on bread.
In a pan, lightly sautee the speck in a pat of butter. Remove just as it starts to change color. Then add the speck onto the bread, cheese and apple.
Grill the bread in some butter until the cheese begins to melt.
Let it get golden brown (don't let it burn like I did) and put the 2 halves together.
Eat while warm.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Restaurant Review Florence: Il Panino del Chianti

Such a cute sandwich shop

So I went to Florence again last weekend. I didn't eat very much while I was there but on Sunday I got
to grab lunch at Il Panino del Chianti. I'd eaten there once before in 2012 when my mom was visiting. It's right by the Ponte Vecchio and therefore wasn't in my everyday path. It's a little touristy but has fantastic sandwiches for 4 and 5 euros. Plus it has a wonderful selection of wines ranging in price.
They have twelve sandwich options which all sounded wonderful and you could even create your own panino with 3 ingredients as well. You could get your sandwich on regular bread for €4 or on schiacciata for €5.
I ordered my sandwich on schiacciata which is a typical Tuscan bread.  It is oven baked focaccia dressed with olive oil and salt and is utterly delicious. La schiaccia has a crisp, salty exterior and a soft interior.
I ordered my panino with finocchiona, pear and pecorino.
Finocchiona is a typical Tuscan salami made with ground pork, red wine and fennel seeds. It is lighter than a regular salami and very flavorful thanks to the fennel seeds. It paired beautifully with the fresh crispy pear and the delicate flavor of the also typically Tuscan pecorino.
The sandwich was toasted and served warm. It was utterly delicious and made me very very happy.
The shop itself is adorable and very traditionally Tuscan in appearance. It's very comfortable but generally quite crowded. There are seats but it's often very full so I would recommend grabbing sandwiches to go and then eating them in Santo Spirito, a beautiful piazza nearby.
The long line is worth it. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Recipe: Cauliflower and Speck Quiche

I really enjoy making quiche.  It doesn't take much effort and a quiche can feed me for a couple of days since I'm on my own. But it makes a great side dish for a family as well. And it can also very easily hide any number of vegetables from a picky eater.
At the market last week, I found individual cauliflower heads and thought they'd be great to add to a quiche.
I also bought some speck which is a dry-cured, lightly smoked ham (similar to prosciutto crudo). It is lightly cured, and then is alternatively exposed to smoke and fresh air. It is smokier, drier and saltier than a prosciutto crudo.
To go with the speck, I also got a smoked scamorza cheese (scamorza affumicata). Scamorza is similar to mozzarella but generally drier and more elastic. It can either be sold after a two week drying process, or it can be smoked. The smoked scamorza has a wonderful, subtle flavor that has a light caramel note that I really enjoy.

3 single small heads of cauliflower (or 1 regular sized cauliflower)
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 or 2 pats of butter
200 gr speck
1 small smoked scamorza, diced
4 eggs
1-2 tbs whole milk
parmesan cheese
1 pre-made pie crust

Pre-heat the over to 350°.
Cut the cauliflower into pieces and add to boiling water. You can add a pinch of salt, but not too much
because the speck acts like bacon and is full of flavor and salt. When the cauliflower is cooked, drain and put to the side to cool.
Slice up the speck evenly.  If you don't have speck, you can also use prosciutto crudo or bacon. If you decide to use bacon, be sure sure to drain the excess fat.
Sweat the onion in butter and then add the speck into the pan as soon as the onion starts to become transparent. Let cook for a minute or so (so it just barely starts to change color) and remove from the heat.
In a bowl, beat 4 eggs, milk, pepper, basil and parmesan together. When it's blended well, add in the scamorza, cauliflower and speck/onion mixture.
Pour into the pie crust and bake for 30-40 minutes. The crust should turn golden the the egg should be cooked all the way through.

Coming Soon

So, I've been going crazy with work and haven't had time to post, but I'm working on it. I promise.

In the next week, I'm posting a couple of different things.  I have them written in my notebook and just have to type them up and hit post.

I'll be posting 2 restaurant reviews, one of a Persian restaurant in Rome and another of Sandwich shop in Florence.
I'll also be posting a couple of recipes for a quiche and a new grilled cheese.

Then goodness knows I'll have more to post since I'm always cooking something up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Saint Patrick's Day Fun

Well, Happy Belated Saint Patty's Day everyone!!
Yes, I know, a day late and a dollar short as per usual! :D It can't be helped.
 But I hope that everyone had a wonderful time drinking green beer and celebrating with marvelous foods and parties.
Saint Patrick's Day was crazy, not because I went out for green beer or anything like that but because we through a Saint Patty's Day party at work for all of our students.  We started prepping at around 1 and then the party started at 4:30 and didn't finish until 7. I also did some prep cooking the night before at home so a lot went into our party planning. I put up streamers and we put up shamrocks and rainbows and of course the games needed setting up.  But it looked great at the end.
This picture is the aftermath picture!  It looked a lot prettier before the kids
somehow pulled down two of my streamers.  I'm still not quite sure how
they reached them, but it must have taken a lot of effort! :)

Let me just tell you, it was exhausting with all of the little children running around!  But it was a lot of fun as well!
We had a blast with face paint! I learned how to paint shamrocks and rainbows with pots of gold on
Making Leprechauns!!
the kids faces.  We played games like pin the pot of gold on the rainbow, musical leprechauns (just like musical chairs lol), giant leprechaun memory and leprechaun bingo plus I organized a craft for them. The children had to make their own leprechauns, girl or boy, by gluing different hair, mouths, beards, and hats onto a blank face, all of which I'd drawn and pre-cut out for them.  So much effort but the kids had a blast and then got to color their creations as well.
I spent the party running around chasing after the kids or making them do crafts or just generally entertaining them but I also contributed to the food table.  For the most part, we had chips, popcorn, candy and various desserts but I handled the "adult" food.  I made a St. Patty's Day Spinach Pie. Honestly, it was my normal recipe (found here). Then right before baking I cut off the excess (pre-made) crust, rolled it out and wrote "Happy Saint Patrick's Day!" on the spinach pie. I even made some shamrocks for decoration.  It was gorgeous and my roommates were oohing and aahing over it when it was done.
At the party it was a hit for its decoration and for the adults but as I suspected not so much with the kids. Kids do not love spinach.  They debated eating it, and we tried to convince them to try small slices but to no avail. One of the students did run up to me and told me how good it was.  Small successes.
I also attempted to make a rainbow out of fruit.  I wanted to use slices of strawberry, orange wedges,
It didn't quite look like a rainbow (I was in such a rush that I put the colors
in the wrong order) but it was delicious and also pretty.
chunks of pineapples, grapes and blueberries to form the arcs but there were no pineapples or blueberries at the super market successfully eliminating two colors.  But I tried anyway.
I used bananas for yellow and skipped the blue and purple. Since I was running around like a crazy person before the party (I was prepping games and putting up streamers and other decorations) I actually didn't have time to slice the fruit but luckily for me some of the teachers were able to take care of it for me.  They are awesome.  Then when I finally had a second I made fresh whipped cream and turned it into a cloud on our rainbow platter. It was quite lovely and also very successful with both adults and kids.  The fruit was fresh and the whipped cream a nice complement.
Just wow!! So many levels of intricate!
But honestly the showstopper at our party was not made by me.  One of the parents made an utterly gorgous looking Over the Rainbow Leprechaun cake.  I almost didn't want to cut into it.  It was green inside with chocolate chips and was quite tasty.  I was so amazed by the skill involved in making something so in depth.  She also made these adorable fudge top hats.  I didn't get to try one but they were very cute and I'm told they were quite delicious.
The adorable top hats!
It was a great party and the kids really enjoyed themselves running back and forth and playing our English games.  The adults had fun socializing and eating our various treats so overall I'd say the party was a success.
We had a lot of fun and were utterly pooped by the end but a couple of us still made the effort to go out for a beer (or in my case cider) and some live Irish music afterwards.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Restaurant Review Florence: Trattoria Anita

I discovered Trattoria Anita back in 2009 when I moved to Florence for my masters (yay Italian linguistics!). Actually, I should say that my friend David discovered it and then introduced me and our friends to Anita's some time in the late fall that year.
The food was so good and the atmosphere so friendly that I've been going there ever since.  It's also decently priced so as a poor student I could afford to eat the amazing food.  While living in Florence I went every couple of weeks and was constantly introducing new people to it.  I've even drawn countless maps on napkins since it's on a back street that most won't accidentally happen upon (which means that there are quite a few Italian diners). It's still not super touristy but it's so good that I can't help but send anyone looking for an amazing Florentine meal there.
And now, I'm finally writing a bog review for it.
Only took me 3 years. -.-
I'm a great procrastinator.
I have tried a lot of their menu, which hasn't really changed since I first ate there.  Honestly, of everything I've tried there has only been one thing that I didn't love and that was their risotto.  It was okay but definitely not my favorite dish.  I think the vegetables in the risotto had been out of season and therefore frozen and not as good as possible.
I have a couple of all time favorite dishes that towards the end of my stay in Florence back in 2012 I got pretty often (okay, almost every time I went, I got the same thing).  I stopped experimenting as much as stuck to my tried and true amazing favorite dishes.  Going back two weeks ago, I did pretty much the same.
The one order came with 2 of each of these
I usually start with the crostini toscani.  If you don't like pate it's not the way to go, but I personally think it's delicious, especially at Trattoria Anita.  The pate is served on warm toasted bread and it's quite creamy but not perfectly smooth.  It has a great texture.  For those of you a little more faint of heart, their tomato bruschetta is also quite delicious with super fresh tomatoes.  Lindsay and I opted for a combination of the Toscani and bruschetta so I could eat my liver and she could eat her tomatoes.
I chose not to get my other favorite appetizer, but if it's your first time at Anita I highly recommend trying the baked pecorino and prosciutto crudo.  It's unbelievably incredible.  I love the gooey, melted cheese paired with the saltiness of the prosciutto.  It comes out in a super hot ceramic dish so watch your hands!  I always eat it with the saltless Florentine bread. Mmmmm... It is heaven in your mouth. I don't remember why we opted for the crostini instead, but this would have been a beautiful way to start our meal.
Then for my main course I very often get the tortellini Norcina.  This last trip was no different.  It is a
My absolute favorite! Tortellini norcina
fairly unique and rich dish.  The sauce is a tomato based sauce made with cream and sausage.  The sauce is so good that it practically melts in your mouth. The tortellini themselves are cooked to al dente perfection and the filling is smooth and creamy but light so it blends with the heaviness of the sausage and cream.  After eating all of the perfectly cooked tortellini I always wind up doing the "scarpetta".  AKA I use a piece of bread to sop up all the rest of the sauce on the plate. i cleaned the plate so well two weekends ago that the waiter gave me a high five. He was quite hilarious and awesome about it.
Lindsay got the pici con cinghiale and that was amazing as well.  Pici is a kind of pasta typical to the Tuscan region and is a hand made noodle similar to spaghetti but thicker. Cinghiale is wild boar. Wild boar is a Florentine specialty.  We were not disappointed by the wild boar sauce for the fresh pici.  The sauce was beautifully seasoned and absolutely full of delicious morsels of wild boar.  Boar is heartier than pork and a little gamier generally speaking but in this dish the gaminess was a non issue. It was rich and flavorful but not tough.
In the past I've tried a lot of other pastas and I can highly recommend their carbonara (I know, the Romans are rolling their eyes, it's a Roman specialty not a Florentine specialty) and their penne with pecorino and sausage. The penne has a rich and creamy sauce with whole chunks of pecorino and sausage. It''s pretty amazing.
I've also tried a lot of their chicken and steak dishes and those are also wonderful but I haven't had them as often since I love my pasta more than my protein.  That being said they have a wonderfully juicy stuffed chicken breast covered in cheese.  It's amazing as is their bistecca alla fiorentina.  They charge you by weight so they'll let you pick the piece of meat they grill for you.  Warning: it will be al sangue, or rare because that's how they make it. If you try to get it medium, or god forbid well done, you are most likely going to have an argument with waiters (not just in Anita, but anywhere in Florence they will argue about the merits of rare steak).
I have to say that I also love Trattoria Anita because of it's charm. It's food is wonderful but it also has a very cozy feeling because it's not super large and it's divided into sections so you don't feel like you're eating in the middle of millions of people.  It's quieter as a result of the division of rooms as well which I love.  It means that there's a happy hustle and bustle in the background but it's not too loud to talk.  It's a great place to sit and talk over a meal where you won't get rushed at all.
Then there's the waitstaff. They are hilarious and wonderfully sympathetic. They periodically try to speak English to me and make me laugh. They know I speak Italian so they normally speak in Italian which makes me happy. They are great with people who are learning Italian because they tend to be very encouraging to beginners.  They flirt and charm and make you feel right at home.
I hadn't been to Anita's in about two years and they remembered me and welcomed me back with open arms.  They are lovely people and really contribute a lot to the whole amazing atmosphere. I've been to other restaurants with equally good or even better food and I've not gone back because the atmosphere wasn't pleasant or because the waitstaff was rude.
Trattoria Anita is wonderful in all senses.
Seriously, make sure if you're in Florence that you go to Anita's because it is absolutely worth it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Visiting Florence

It’s amazing.
When I go to Florence it’s as if nothing ever changes and then of course you take a closer look and realize that lots of things have changed, but it’s all background change. Nothing important has changed. The people are the same. The atmosphere is the same. Florence is always the same gorgeous city full of the same amazing sites.
I took this picture on Sunday, hence why it's not lit up
I got to Florence on Saturday and took a long lazy walking tour through center. There are some new restaurants, cafes, and gelaterias but the most important ones, the best still remain exactly where they have always been. They have stayed the same.
For example, for dinner we went to Trattoria Anita, what was a fixture in my life when I lived in Florence. It’s still the same and still incredible. It is so incredible that it deserves its own blog posting (which should be up soon)
Then there’s Old Stove Signoria.  My fixture. My home away from home in Florence. It’s an ordinary bar in Piazza Signoria and I practically lived there for the last two years of my stay in
Old Stove Signoria... A quiet moment
bella Firenze. I made friends with the hilarious bartenders and with their friends too.  It’s not the best food, but the atmosphere is incredible and the staff are friendly and awesome, especially the night staff.  There have been a few changes over the years, but it’s still an amazing place.  I don’t love the new kitchen but I still love the music, radio and live. Plus on Tuesday and Saturday nights they still do karaoke too. The karaoke is hilarious and fun and I love going and singing with my Italian girls who just egg me on and have me try random, difficult songs for the hell of it. 
That was my Saturday in Florence. Amazing dinner with my friend Lindsay and then karaoke at Old Stove after a cider at the other  Old Stove near the Porcellino.  It was a great night with awesome people and general hilarity and went on till the early hours of the morning. 
Now just a general warning, if you are a single, attractive single (well, okay, you don’t have to be single) female, you will get hit on at Old Stove Signoria. It is inevitable. The bartenders are hilarious and will hit on attractive females but it is part of their amazing Italian charm.  Just don’t let yourself get too charmed. ;)
The view from the bench in front of Old Stove
Then on Sunday after a nice long sleep, Lindsay made me an awesome homemade breakfast and then I went for a walk around the city. I met up with one of my favorite Italians, Alessio . We had a brief catch up session at Old Stove over a cider. (I know, I go to Old Stove a lot when I’m in Florence but in the day it’s very  relaxing and chill.) It’s been about 2 years since I’ve been able to sit down with him so I was super excited.
After my gab session I ran around the city confirming that nothing has changed terribly drastically.  I went to Via dei Neri and got a gelato from one of my favorites, Gelateria dei Neri (my review here). It’s still one of the best in the city. I get it way too often when I’m in the city but I love it wayyy too much.

I took a nice, long walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo and took lots of gorgeous pictures of the beautiful
One of the views walking down from Piazzale Michelangelo
sun and landscapes. It was refreshing and amazingly relaxing before my early evening with Lindsay and her most adorable son at a Carnevale party where we munched and danced to the Macarena. 
Then after a long day I wandered back to Old Stove for a cider and a chicken burger. Really I wandered over to say goodbye to everyone, but I was hungry so I decided to get a snack before training it back to Rome. The chicken burger was pretty good but I covered it in mayo, ketchup and Tabasco (I always ask for Tabasco because I love spicy wayyy too much not to do it). Then while I ate I took some time to write in the crowd like old times.  Some things never change. Somehow or other I can sit in a crowded pub and still focus on writing. It’s one of the few times I don’t get easily distracted.

Overall, I’d say it was an awesome weekend filled with good food, old friends, and cold cider. I’m definitely glad I got away from Rome for the weekend. Goodness knows I’ll be back to Florence again quite soon.