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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Recipe: Grilled Turkey with an Orange and Fennel Salad

This particular meal is a tribute to my last roommate Roberta, who just moved back to Campobasso. She always cooked a lot of grilled chicken and turkey.  She had a very healthy style of eating. Usually I am too lazy to get out the grill pan or have other recipes in mind. But for this meal I decided to stop being lazy and I pulled out the grill pan to grill up some turkey. 
Only the white is edible
I decided to also make an orange and fennel salad because we had talked about it one night when she was cutting up some fennel. I don’t have much experience with fennel. I’ve had it a couple of times at Bruschetta’s since they have a beautiful pear and fennel salad. But the majority of the salad isn’t actually fennel. I’ve also had it baked in the oven with cheese and butter (thanks to some of my Florentine roommates back in the days of Florence).
 I, however, had never actually cooked with fennel before so it was really interesting for me as I watched her make a fennel and apple salad. It was simple. Thinly sliced green apple and fennel, salt, pepper and olive oil. She explained to me that her salad is traditionally made in Sicily with oranges but that the green apple worked as well because they have little more bite to them than an ordinary red or yellow apple.
I was fascinated and promptly bought a fennel… and then being me, did nothing with it for over a week. Luckily, fennel holds well in the refrigerator.
A traditional Sicilian Salad
Now for anyone who doesn’t know what fennel is, it is a vegetable, larger than celery but similar in appearance except they are white and much larger at the bulbous root tip. You only eat the white, either raw or cooked.  It is crisp and delicious and tastes a bit like licorice. It tastes more strongly of licorice when cooked. If you don’t like vegetables, but like licorice, I highly recommend it. I normally don’t like licorice candy and that’s why I’ve shied away from fennel for so long. It turns out I like licorice if it’s not candy!
This salad with fennel and oranges is really light and utterly delicious. It’s a little sweet but savory at the same time.  The simplicity and acidity of the salad goes really well with the simple grilled turkey. Or you could easily substitute the turkey breast with chicken breast.
The turkey should cook quite quickly so I would recommend prepping the salad first so you can eat the turkey while still warm.

Grilled Turkey
Sliced turkey breast partially or fully defrosted
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes if you like spicy
Olive oil or pam spray

I always coat the grill pan with a little olive oil or nonstick spray so there’s less likelihood of the turkey sticking to the pan (which inevitably leads to easier clean up!).  Use a medium flame and let the grill pan get really hot. In the meantime, sprinkle both sides of the turkey with salt, pepper and red peper flakes. When the pan is hot put your turkey on long ways, so that the length of the turkey gets grill marks. I failed at this the first time, but it still tasted good (just looks a little cooler with beautiful grill marks).
Leave the turkey alone for a few minutes and flip when you have clear grill marks on the one side. This works a lot better if the pan is hot, hot when you add the chicken and not just warm.  If your turkey slices are particularly thick, you can flip again for a crosshatch pattern.

Orange and Fennel Salad (one large serving)
1 whole fennel
1 or 2 whole oranges (I used blood orange for the color)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

Remove any dark spots from you fennel and wash the leaves thoroughly. Remove the branches and very bottom of the plant. Then cut the white into thin slices (if you want them really, really thin, like in restaurants, you can use a grater to slice them, but I prefer them thicker for some crunch to contrast the orange). Put the slices into a bowl and then cut your orange in half.  Slice out the wedges and add to the salad. Dress with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix and serve.
You can also squeeze some extra orange into the salad for an extra
kick of orange flavor. 

I served mine next to the turkey but you can also serve it directly on the turkey since it adds some moisture and flavor to the basic grilled turkey. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Restaurant Review Rome: Gelateria del Teatro

This is a grown up Gelateria. Well… Anyone can eat ice cream there, but it has some amazingly grownup flavors.
  • Cioccolato fondente al nero d’avola (Dark chocolate and red wine)
  •  Fragola allo spumante (Champagne and Strawberries)
  •   Salvia e lamponi (Sage and raspberries)
  • Cioccolato bianco e basilico (White chocolate and basil)
  • Zabaglione zibibbo  (Sicilian wine cream)
  • Mandorla d’avola (Sicilian almond)
  •  Vecchia Roma (Cherry and cheese)
  • Rosmarino, miele e limone (Rosemary, honey and lemon)

Very original and just alcoholic enough for my tastes.  They also had more ordinary flavors too, but the majority had some kind of exciting twist. It’s not as creamy as the gelato from Gelati & Mozzarella but it was still quite delicious.  I think it’s a Sicilian gelateria because it uses quite a few ingredients from Sicily which would also explain the less creamy consistency. 
What I really love about this place is the originality. You’re not going to find flavors like these in most other gelterias. For example I got a tasting of white chocolate and basil gelato. Where else are you going to find such a combination?  It was delicious and so completely unexpected. The white chocolate was the perfectly sweet balance to the pungency and earthiness of the basil.  It was really quite good.
I decided to skip it in my cup only because I didn’t want the white chocolate. It’s generally a little too
sweet for me. Instead I got the dark chocolate and wine gelato, strawberry champagne gelato and the sage and raspberry gelato. So refreshing on a hot, sunny day.
Surprisingly, my favorite flavor was the strawberry champagne.  It was light and refreshing, exactly what I needed after my 3 hour walk yesterday.  The strawberry tasted like fresh berries bursting in my mouth combined with the light bubbliness of champagne.
I liked my other 2 flavors as well. The dark chocolate is strong, not only was the dark chocolate flavor very strong but so was the wine. You can definitely taste both equally.  I really liked it but it was a little heavier. I would be hard pressed to eat a cup of it alone.  That being said, it paired really well with the other 2 flavors since they were both less heavy.  Even the sage and raspberry gelato was pretty light considering it was made with some kind of a cream base. I loved that the sage and the raspberry were quite well balanced. The sage was a nice earthy tone that worked with poignancy of raspberry.  It also matched quite nicely with my other flavors. 
Gelateria del Teatro is pretty well known. It’s won all sorts of awards for its gelato; all well deserved.  I happened to arrive during a lull which was nice. I could look at the flavors without making any snap decisions.  About ten minutes later, while I was sitting outside with my gelato however, there was a big rush and the place got packed.
It’s on an accessible corner but it’s not prone to the most foot traffic. People go there because they know it’s good so I suggest looking up directions and grabbing a gelato while you’re already in the Trastevere area or when you’re by Piazza Venezia  or Campo dei Fiori. It’s right on the river and is easy to get to from any of those areas on foot.  However, you won’t find it accidently (unless you happen to be walking on that side of the river, on the correct side of the street… it’s not super easy to spot unless you know where to look). I highly recommend that you look for it on purpose.
And if it’s sunny and warm outside, you can sit at their cute little café tables and bask in the shade. It’s a little noisy from the cars but it has a lovely breeze to chase away the heat.

P.S. There are two locations. The one I went to is Lungotevere dei Vallati 25 right on the corner of Via Melangolo about a block away from Ponte Garibaldi.

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.