New Year’s resolutions (eat more vegetables)

I never know where the time goes. It’s already January and I have yet to start on my New Year’s resolutions. (Blame it on the short vacation, beautiful weather, copious amounts of food and beverages). But January it is and the resolutions better start soon. Here they are: (in no particular order)

Eat more vegetables. I always tend to dance around veggies while preparing dinner. Coming home from work tired and deprived of imagination, I go for boring rather than creativity: potatoes, potatoes and potatoes (and Brussels sprouts).

Write more posts. This shouldn’t really be on the list, but with the little time I have to devote to the blog, I am going to make it my mission to populate this baby with tons of delicious recipes and posts.

– Therefore, cook more creative dishes. This really means that I need to experiment with ingredients, find perfect combinations (like truffle and butter), try new things (never cooked with collard greens),

Invent recipes. When I cook, I always try to think of other ways to incorporate a certain ingredient or how to transform a tired recipe into something new, fresh and fun. Wish me luck! Well…actually, wish Francesco luck because he will be the one trying my creations!

So, let’s get started! May 2012 bring all of you happiness, love and success.

Chiara


Out and About: Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville

There are so many little secrets in Charlottesville. The Blue Moon Diner, a rock-and-roll eatery, is certainly one of them. Located on West Main Street, the largest artery in town, this one-of-a-kind diner is an institution. We’ve dined there for brunch, lunch and dinner and it has never disappointed our hungry mouths. The best thing is that it’s only a 3-minute walk from our apartment.

Aside from the Elvis-inspired decor, which is honestly the best I’ve seen around, the Blue Moon Diner’s food is the talk of the town. Sure, pretty amazing musicians grace the “stage” (more like a corner between two benches) on a weekly basis, and CLAW found its official home, they even have pancakes with faces on them! (Rainn Wilson, for example) but, again, the food is what it is all about. Hearty. Local. Simple. Perfect.

So, this time around, we chose brunch. Something Francesco and I love to do is wake up late on Sunday morning, take a quick shower and walk to Blue Moon. No matter what you get: “Huevos Bluemoonos ,” blueberry pancakes, meatloaf, any of the burgers platters, eggs any way you want, it’s always a solid bet. It’s going to taste good. On this day, I chose my own omelet with feta cheese, spinach and bacon. Delicious. It is served with house potatoes and a drink of your choice…hot tea for this girl.

And let’s spend a minute to discuss service. Servers are cool, fast and genuinely nice. Hearty brunch, good service and  fun decor. All things that point to a winner.

The Weekend List 11/20/11

What a week! And Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This year, Francesco and I will be spending la festa del ringraziamento (Thanksgiving in Italian) with our good friends Emily, Rick and Emily’ family in Northern Virginia. I am very excited to try an authentic American Thanksgiving dinner. For my part, I’ve decided to delve into dessert –Torta Caprese, which has nothing to do with Caprese salad, although they originate from the same region, Campania (Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast…). The Torta Caprese is a decadent chocolate cake punctuated by hints of roasted almonds.

–The annual winter library sale is one of my favorite activities in Charlottesville. The city’s public library puts thousands and thousands of used and library books for sale. It was really no surprised that I went directly to the cookbook section. Who wouldn’t? After a couple of hours of perusing dusty and event ancient books, I settled with Julia Child by Laura Shapiro, a biography of the amazing Julia, and a cookbook of the cuisine of Emilia Romagna, the home of the original and still best Parmigiano Reggiano. First recipe that caught my eye? Parmesan Cheese Ice Cream. I kid you not. Mind=blown.

–Tons of reading was done this week….because there was a lot of reading to do! The New Yorker Food Issue (more on this in a later post) came out, the second issue of David Chang’s Lucky Peach (look out for a post soon) and my usual bedtime reading schedule. After listening to this Fresh Air interview on NPR with journalist Barry Eastabrook about his latest work, Tomatoland, I was intrigued. Tomatoland is Eastabrook’s detailed and shocking investigation of the complete destruction of America’s tomato agriculture and the abuse of its workers.

“Worker were ‘sold’ to crew bosses to pay off bogus debts, beaten if they didn’t feel like working or were too sick or weak to work, held in chains, pistol whipped, locked at night into shacks in chain-link enclosures patrolled by arm guards.”

Makes you think twice about buying tomatoes, doesn’t it? I’m only half way through the book and I believe this quote won’t be the only one that makes my arm hair stand up.

— The Associated Press reported that the Locally Grown business is a much more lucrative business model then previously thought…to the tune of $4.8 billion in 2008 and an estimated $7 billion this year. It’s a good thing that Charlottesville has a bustling farmers market, one that was voted 14th best in the nation. I am all for locally grown, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all have a vegetable garden in our backyards? Food for thought.

Happy Sunday everybody!

The Weekend List 11/12/11

I’ve decided that this weekend is going to be pure relax. After the week I’ve had, all I need is time to actually think. Tuesday was election day in Charlottesville and as a reporter for a weekly newspaper, my day—and the week leading up to voting day—was consumed by all things political. Not that I mind. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy following the day-to-day of local government and I have to admit, I loved live tweeting (is that how you write it???) from the polls—140 characters of pure spontaneity, and you can read my work twitter feed here. That said, here is the list.

–As you may know, I am an obsessive fan of Top Chef. I’ve followed the show since its first season when Harold took the prize home. Two weeks ago, the highly anticipated Top Chef Texas finally hit the airwaves with a slightly new format (on-the-spot eliminations…and the Bubble Room!) and two new judges: Emeril (bam!) and Hugh Acheson of Top Chef Masters fame. What I love most about this show is the competitiveness of each contestant, their quirkiness and loud mouths…and let’s be honest, head judge Tom Colicchio. He is not kidding around, especially this season.

–Thanksgiving issues. I always look forward to the monthly arrival of my favorite food magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and the always impressive Real Simple. This month, unsurprisingly, they are all about creating the most perfect Thanksgiving feast. Being Italian and all, I have never really celebrated this particular holiday. Sure, I’ve gone to dinner where turkey was served, but really never tried to do it myself. Of the three, this month’s favorite is Food & Wine mainly because they touched on all some of my favored things: Southern food, Dave Matthews, how to make chicken stock and David Chang.

–Florence Fabricant’s “The lost art of buying from a butcher” piece in the New York Times. My parents used to regularly buy meat from the butcher when my brother and I were youngsters. I still remember entering the shop and being amazed by how knowledgeable was the person behind the counter. My mom or my dad would tell him what they intended on cooking and he would direct them to the best and most appropriate cut of meat. Since moving to the U.S., and Los Angeles to be more specific, I’ve lost that. Charlottesville is home to The Organic Butcher, an amazing resource of good and hearty meat. I guess I’ll be stopping by more often.

Buying some pork or most other meats is not as simple or as cheap as picking out an apple. Do not tweet your friends for advice; consult the butcher.

–All things Anthony Bourdain. After reading both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and seeing his show with chef Eric Ripert, I decided I can’t get enough of him. It’s true what they say…you either love Tony, or you hate him. I definitely fall into the love category: his sarcasm, crass, ego, loud mouth. All of it. I consider it a breath of fresh air. While waiting for his new show, The Layover to premiere in a couple of weeks, here are some interesting Q&A that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

Happy weekend!

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!

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!

New Project: Raspberries and Ruminations

Few months ago, a group of women got together and brainstormed about ways to marry the mutual love of food, books, reading and writing. It didn’t take them too long to come up with a solution called Raspberries and Ruminations. (www.raspberriesandruminations.com)

Yes, I’m one of the women and yes, I can’t seem to get away from food blogs. I love it. Through Raspberries and Ruminations, we chronicle our successes with family recipes and our failures with new ingredients. It’s a bit like Top Chef—competitions…but less catty—but more importantly, it’s a venue to express what it is about food that makes us want to turn into professional chefs. Food is life and life with food is divine.

It is so fitting that my first entry was about risotto. Check is out and set back, relax and enjoy the new ride.

Risotto for life

I don’t really know what it is about risotto that makes me giddy. It may be the shape— a nice, friendly oval-shaped grain (or how we say it in Italy, chicco), or it may be color—pearly white (who wouldn’t like that?), but risotto is special for the memories it carries. I didn’t learn how to cook properly until I was in my 20s and even now, the results are at most amateurish (I still can’t bake decent cookies). What I have spent my entire life doing is observing family members move in the kitchen, juggle pots and pans, measuring ingredients, tasting obscure sauces and making risotto: Risotto this way, risotto that way, risotto prepared by one aunt, risotto made by my grandmother. It was a risotto-filled adolescence. Not that I minded. I love me some creamy rice.

Before I get too wrapped up in my melancholic story, I must say that risotto is staple of the regional cuisine of Northern Italy, where I was born. Risotto alla milanese, or risotto from Milan, is probably one of my first food memories. It’s a very simple and humble dish: rice, saffron, broth and Parmesan cheese, but it resembles my heritage, my childhood, my identity.

I think about my grandmother Pierina at the kitchen stove, stirring a big pot of rice and broth. If I close my eyes, I can still see her –  her strong arms stirring and stirring and stirring and stir some more, only the occasional taste test would interrupt that action. She would pout, she would smile and she would stir.

Nowadays, I love preparing risotto, but I use a pressure cooker, which cuts the time in half. If my grandma finds out I am cutting corners with food, she would get really upset. Ah, conveniences, she would probably say. Even my aunt Rosanna, an incredibly skilled and fearless cook, uses a very old pot to make risotto and she would never be caught with a pressure cooker. She says the years of that pot add to the deliciousness of the risotto, and in fact, she has cooked the best risotto I have ever eaten and that I have tried to replicate for our first suppah club challenge.

So, in honor of my mom Patrizia, aunt Rosanna, great-aunt Cesarina and grandmas Pierina and Rachele, I give you risotto with saffron and sausage.

Risotto with saffron and sausage

INGREDIENTS: (serves 4 people)

  • 1 packet of Arborio rice
  • 3 fresh pork Kielbasa sausages
  • 2 packets of Italian saffron
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 5 cups of chicken broth
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 table spoons of extra virgin olive oil

PREPARATION:

The first thing is to add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a pot (I use a pressure cooker but any pot will do). Dice the garlic cloves and add them to the pan. Roast the garlic in the oil for about 3 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the sausages. De-case them and cut them into little pieces. Once the garlic is nice and golden, drop the sausages into the pan and let them cook for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and the saffron, stir until the saffron evenly coats the contents and let them cook for about 5 more minutes.

Add the rice – with Arborio rice, there is no need to wash it, so it’s ready to go right our of the box. Stir the rice and the sausages until the rice is well coated with saffron (a nice orange color). At this point, add the chicken broth. To make a creamy risotto, add more liquid to the pot (as a rule of thumb, the liquid should cover the rice and sausages) and cook it, stirring often, for 25 minutes. Here is where the pressure cooker comes handy. Once I add the chicken stock, I close the lid and let it do its things for 10 minutes. It’s that easy.

Once the risotto is nice and creamy, plate it and add some Parmigiano Reggiamo and, if you want to be a bit fancy, a bit of fresh Italian parsley. Buon Appetito!