The Weekend List

They are calling for snow in the mountains of Charlottesville. I cannot believe winter is already here. To honor the capricious season, here is the Weekend List:

*Since I am obsessed with saffron (see here and here), I found Tim Carman’s story about the Saffron King running out of his namesake spice both an interesting and sad tale. Read it here.

*I would love one of these.

*It’s going to be freezing cold (and snowing), so I might just give that Beef Bourguignon a try. Or this.

*This weather makes my want to roast some chestnuts and have a quiet afternoon with this spread.

*Almost done reading this. Next up is Barry Eastabrook’s Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Listen to this NPR interview.

*I couldn’t get enough of Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, looking forward to seeing this on Sunday night! Look out for a full report!

Happy weekend and happy thoughts!

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What to do about dinner with an (almost) empty fridge?

When you have fresh ingredients, you can’t go wrong. Francesco and I don’t always have time to make a three-course meal, so we just get creative.  I used to brainstorm for hours about what would make a decent dinner with the ingredients I found in the fridge. Now, I just wing it, and most of the time, they results are comestible  – eggs and cheese? Add a bit of bacon or prosciutto and you have yourself a frittata. Tomatoes and mozzarella? A nice Caprese salad. We both like bell peppers (a staple in our fridge), shallots and beans, all kinds of beans, and that’s what we had the night we decided to put them all together.

There isn’t really a recipe to follow, but here are some instructions. We thinly sliced a trio of orange, yellow and red bell peppers – I use the royal “we,” but Francesco should take the credits for this dish. We did the same with the shallots and threw them into a hot pan. Let them cook for about 8 or 10 minutes, until tender.

The one ingredient we willingly chose to use in the dish was meat. We decided on skirt steak, one of my favorite cuts and a breeze to grill. We sprinkled some salt, pepper and smoked paprika and placed it on a grill pan. There are many disadvantages to not having an outdoor grill and one of the worst is smoke! Although our kitchen resembles my hometown in Italy on a morning after a night of heavy rains – foggy and muggy – the flavor of grilled meat make up for it.

Skirt steak is lean and very flavorful. Its only downside is that if overcooked can be chewy and hard. One fun fact that I was unaware of is that this cut is often used to make Bolognese sauce (or ragu’). Ah, the things you learn on the Internet.

While the bell peppers and the meat are cooking, prepare the beans. We used store-bought big Pinto beans, but Cannellini beans (my favorite) work just fine. Wash them thoroughly and add them to the bell peppers. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.

After the meat is done, let it rest for at least 15 minutes – this will leave it tender and its juices intact. Then cut it in small strips.

Heat up a c0uple of tortillas (we chose flour tortillas, but corn will do) and fill them up with the delicious vegetable medley and add the meat and a sprinkle of olive oil.

This dish took about 20 minutes to make. It’s an easy and healthy quick dinner for busy professionals. Enjoy!

Food Reads: My article on healthy school lunches in Charlottesville

Charlottesville City schools to add fresh recipes, work towards centralized kitchen

The movement to bring more from-scratch meals to Charlottesville City Schools is alive and well.

One year after Charlottesville Cooking School owner Martha Stafford designed a black bean and brown rice taco recipe for school lunch menus, the meal is in rotation and recipes for hummus and granola are in the works. To make the process more efficient, the school administration is ready to support the creation of a centralized kitchen for the entire district.

The caveat? The reality of a central kitchen is contingent upon the district’s middle school overhaul, which began last year.
Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administration services, said the administration is still “in the process” of presenting the school board and City Council with a recommendation to renovate Buford Middle and Walker Elementary schools. Once approved and funded, the design process will begin.

Martha Stafford, director of the Charlottesville Cooking School, says a central kitchen for city schools will help ensure “a consistent, flavorful product.” (Image)

“We are excited to move forward with that,” he said. Henderson added that if the project falls through, “then we will begin looking at our own kitchens and making sure to continue cooking good foods.”

Henderson says a central kitchen could help streamline cooking processes and add more fresh recipes to the menus.
“I think with a central kitchen we can do a better job of training staff, a better use of space, a better use of labor, a better use of making sure that when we bring in local produce, we have the appropriate space to do everything,” he said.

Stafford says a central kitchen will also help improve the quality of the food.

“It’s important when introducing new and fresher food that it be a consistent, flavorful product,” said Stafford. A butternut squash soup she created for the wintertime, for instance, didn’t pass taste tests and ultimately did not make its way to school menus.

Behind the movement’s success is City Schools Dietician Alicia Cost—who along with Nutrition Services Coordinator Sandra Vasquez, received the Trailblazer Award from the Local Food Hub and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cost has worked tirelessly to get even more produce and local, grass-fed beef into the schools’ kitchens at a price that satisfies the school system’s budget.

“We are still talking with the Local Food Hub and local beef growers to find an acceptable price point of what we can pay, what they pay and trying to figure out how to fit it into our food cost per meal,” she said.

The current price per meal in city schools ranges from $0.85 to around $1.05, plus labor. Students can purchase lunch for $2 in elementary schools and $2.25 in middle and high schools. Both prices increased 25 cents over last year’s cost to students.

For now, no matter the price tag, the goal remains the same. “We are going to continue engaging students and listening to them react to different recipes and maybe survey them more…and really try to put a healthy twist on everything we introduce to them and try to stretch their taste buds,” said Cost.

First appeared on C-VILLE Weekly’s website. For the original story, click here.

Food Reads: 10 Best Food & Wine European Cities (according to TripAdvisor)

I love these lists! TripAdvisor listed the top 10 best European cities for food and wine. Out of 10, 5 are Italian cities. (Though I am just a bit disappointed that Milano is not featured…remember our dish de force?)

WE RULE. Period.

1. FIRENZE

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One surprising thing about Firenze’s food is its bread…no salt! They call it il pane brutto, the ugly bread, but there is nothing ugly, or wrong, about a oven baked loaf of unsalted bread. Oh, and don’t forget the perfect steak, la Fiorentina, thick and juicy.

3. ROMA

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La porchetta, freshly roasted sliced porkloin that can be eaten both cold and warm, is a staple of Rome and a favorite of Francesco. When in Rome, do as the Romans do…eat pounds and pounds of porchetta.

4. SORRENTO

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In the Campania region, where Sorrento is located, one cannot decide what to call its standalone dish. There are too many. First, the mozzarella….fresh Buffalo mozzarella and juicy grape tomatoes make for an unbelievable Caprese salad; the limoncello liquor made from fresh, sunny bathed lemons and all kinds of delicious and fresh seafood.

6. SIENA

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Wild board, salami, pork…that’s the strength of Siena. And the biscuits…almond paste with vanilla. YUM.

7. BOLOGNA

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Ravioli, tortellini, tortelli, ragu’ alla Bolognese…there is so much to choose from!

What is your favorite Italian dish? The most surprising? The craziest? I’d love to know!