Idyllic Eats in Italy

The clocks have gone back an hour and the temperatures are rapidly descending, and while I’m more than ready to welcome all things cozy in the form of sweaters, soups, and holidays, I still find myself reminiscing about our honeymoon this past June. Our time on the Amalfi Coast was utterly perfect and full of adventure, relaxation, romance, decadence, and plenty of fun.

Amalfi Coat Pride and Polka Dots

Pride and Polka Dots Italy Pride and Polka Dots Positano Pride and Polka Dots Positano City Pride and Polka Dots Capri CoastFortunately, there’s one souvenir  (besides paintings and photographs) from our fun that I can make a fairly regular part of our daily lives, even in the cold. We were lucky enough to have a private cooking class with the incredibly talented women behind Donna Rosa. It was a morning and afternoon packed with food, drinks, giggles and fun. Our new friends are exactly what you would expect of famed Italian hospitality.

When we arrived at their bastion of fine Italian cooking, tucked along Montepertuso, Erika, Rosida and Mama greeted us warmly and led us through their cozy, yet elegant, restaurant. The restaurant is a local (and global) favorite for inventive fine Italian dining, with fans throughout Italy and beyond, like Jaimie Oliver and Ina Garten. Before Jordan and I knew it, we were well equipped with aprons, coffee, and fresh homemade cornetto–the Italian answer to croissants. We learned a ton of fabulous recipes and techniques thanks to Erika’s mastery and Rosida’s rapt but humorous attention. In an attempt to relive just a taste of our fun, I decided to share one of their recipes! Below is a tutorial for a simple dish that could accompany a large dinner or, in my opinion, make a perfectly acceptable main dish for a cozy but easy meal!Pride and Polka Dots Donna Rosa

Involtini Di Melanzane from Donna Rosa

You’ll need:

  • Several long and thin eggplants, tops and outer skin removed
  • Salt
  • Peanut oil
  • Mozzarella, cut into small rectangles and refrigerated to dry a bit ahead of time
  • Fresh basil
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • All purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes, pureed in a food processor


To make the Involtini:

  1. Thinly slice the peeled eggplants using a mandolin slicer. Layer them in a colander and lightly sprinkle salt on each layer to help reduce the water content of each slice. Let the eggplant drain in the sink for about 30 minutes, until the eggplant slices are “limp”. This is an old school trick to keep the eggplant from having a “bitter” taste.
  2. While you wait for the eggplant prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, add the extra virgin olive oil and briefly sauté the sliced/chopped garlic. When lightly golden, add pureed San Marzano plum tomatoes. Cook at low heat for 15 minutes and set aside.IMG_4101 IMG_4083
  3. Remove the excess water and salt from the eggplant slices by gently squeezing each slice between two fingers like a squeegee. Dry the slices on paper towels. In a bowl, pour the flour and allow the slices of eggplant to have flour on both sides, removing the excess by moving it with two fingers
  4. In a large saucepan, pour about 1″ peanut oil and heat until it’s very “hot”. Gently drop the slices of floured eggplant in the hot oil, gradually, without crowding the pan and remove the slices when lightly browned, but still pliable. The goal isn’t to make them crispy. Place them on paper towels to drain.
  5. Lay slices of fried eggplant on a working surface. Sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese on all pieces. Place a piece of the dried mozzarella and a small piece of basil at one end of each eggplant slice and roll toward the opposite end. Repeat until done, placing the rolls in the baking pan.

    The best husband, ever.

    The best husband, ever.

  6. Heat the oven to 350° F
  7. Spoon tomato sauce over each roll and bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil on top of each roll. Serve immediately.

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Ta-da!

It’s really an exceedingly simple dish, but satisfying enough to make a meal! It’s truly rare that a chef shares their best family recipes, so I hope you enjoy this treat as much as we (and all the fans of Donna Rosa) do! If you ever have the opportunity to dine at Donna Rosa, it is undoubtedly worth the time, money and effort!

Also, suggestion: spend the rest of your evening on the balcony with wine….sending helpful snapchats while a little buzzed and full of food!IMG_4039

Let’s Eat: Homemade Pasta

Sometimes you just win at dinner. By win, I mean you make something so excellent and exciting and special, you can’t help but brag. Cue this week’s feature: sweet potato gnocchi with a brown butter balsamic sage sauce. A little more time-consuming and high-maintenance than simply opening a box of “Easy Mac?” Sure. Worth it? Undoubtedly. I have two chef-friends in Italy who would back me up on this…fresh pasta is the BEST.
I decided, partially by popular demand, that this was worth a share and so the recipe is below. If you’re a kitchen novice, this is a good opportunity to learn a few skills–namely how to brown butter properly and an introduction to fresh pasta making.
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My recipe is adapted from Just A Taste 

Let’s start with the gnocchi. You’ll need:
  • Three sweet potatoes, washed and pierced multiple times with a fork.
  • A cup of freshly grated parmesan reggiano
  • 13 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, strained for an hour in a fine mesh sieve
  • A half teaspoon of maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 cups of all purpose flour
1. Roast the scrubbed and pierced sweet potatoes (no oven explosions please!) until very tender. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
2. Scoop the flesh from the sweet potato into a large bowl and discard the skin. Thoroughly mash/puree/rice/eviscerate the potatoes until super smooth.
3. Add the strained (we are trying to minimize excess moisture!) ricotta cheese to the sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly
4. Add the Parmesan, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix again
5. Now comes the flour. Since the goal is to form dough, but maintain the fluffy-pillowy nature of the gnocchi, which means using the flour only to the extent it’s necessary. Doing this part right will distinguish your gnocchi from bricks of chunky paste. You need to incorporate flour with your sweet potato etc. gradually, thoroughly, and sparingly. We are looking for the bare minimum when it comes to the amount of flour we add.  To accomplish this, add the flour by the 1/2 cup and mix well inbetween each addition. When a dough forms (just a tad bit sticky but malleable) you’re done. For my gnocchi, it took about 2.3 cups of flour…Once you hit the 2 cup mark, it’s time to add flour in even smaller increments.
Next we go from dough to gnocchi!
6. Thoroughly flour a cookie sheet, your work surface, your hands, and by this point…all of your kitchen/clothing.
7. Separate the dough into 6 equally-sized balls. Place on of these balls on your work surface.
8.  Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong-shape. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and with very light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope about a 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, it might be easier to cut each oblong-piece of dough in half to roll it.)
9. Slice the rope into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Do your best to keep the size consistent as you slice. Sprinkle the little gnocchi babies lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a small, rough, ball. You can flour the dough/your hands  to prevent sticking.
http://daleydish.com/blog/2010/11/homemade-gnocchi.html                  photo by Daley Dish
The next step may feel excessive but keep in mind, the ridges in gnocchi help the pasta absorb and hold sauce!
10. Take a fork and hold the tines so the concave part faces up. Press each ball of dough with you thumb lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling aka gnocchi aka heaven. Set each one on the floured baking sheet.
Homemade-Gnocchi
                            photo by Just A Taste
Gnocchi need to be either made right away or frozen. Set aside what you’re going to make that day, and freeze the rest.
Now to make the sauce….Brown butter balsamic sage sauce!
Before you begin this step, start boiling a large pot of water!
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You’ll need one stick of butter (1/2 cup), give or take, 1/4 cup of chopped sage leaves, 2.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 pepper.
  1. Heat a metal (any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t black) saucepan on medium heat. Cut the butter into equally sized pieces and melt them in the pan…
  2. As the butter melts, keep stirring so that it melts evenly. By cutting the butter into even pieces and stirring constantly, you ensure that no milk solids brown before the rest of the butter melts and result in burnt butter (not delicious)
  3. After about 40 seconds, the butter will bubble and foam–good! This is the water evaporating, which means the milk solids will be left behind to brown and get delicious. KEEP STIRRING

As the foam subsides, you should be able to see the butter changing, and the milk solids turning brown. Keep stirring and watching intentlyIMG_5726

  1. Take the pan off the heat when it starts to turn golden-brown…it continues to cook after it’s been removed from the heat, which is why people frequently blacken their brown butter

  2. After a minute, add the chopped sage and wait until it cooks a bit

  3. Add the balsamic, salt, and pepper. Stir and ta-da! You’re nearly done…

At this point, you should have a pot of boiling water. Add your gnocchi and do not crowd the pot…better to make two batches rather than create a giant sticky pasta mess. They are cooked when they float to the top, which takes about two minutes with fresh pasta! Remove with a slotted spoon and toss with the sauce.

You could always add crispy fried pancetta and ribbons of parmesan on top…this is supposed to be decadent! Either way, I’m sure you’ll be entirely happy with the result! Happy eating!

Let’s Eat: Liège Waffles

This post has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here today! What could possibly be worth such a long wait you ask? Well…how about the recipe for authentic liège waffles a la our earlier trip (and blog post) to Belgium? That’s what I thought.

I’ve been wishing for these ever since I had them a few weeks ago, so without any further delay: Waffles!

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You’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 packet dry active yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm (100-110 degrees F) milk
  • 8 oz softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 bag of belgian pearl sugar (available at amazon.com)

 

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I figured out why Belgian waffles are SO addictive and amazing…the drugs they put in the batter!

IMG_1543 IMG_1540A little of this stuff makes a HUGE different in all the baking I do…I cannot recommend it enough!

To make all these things turn into heavenly waffles:

  1. Add your yeast to the milk with some sugar to let it proof. When it’s foamy and ready (about ten minutes), add all the other ingredients,except the sugar!!, and mix well.
  2. Let the dough rise for approximately 30 minutes, covered with a towel and set in a warm and cozy spot.
  3. Once the dough has risen, add an entire bag of pearl sugar…this is about to get realIMG_1546
  4. Make sure your waffle iron is heated, I set mine to level 4
  5. Break the dough into roughly 3oz balls, and then pat them down before placing them in the waffle iron to cook. IMG_1551 IMG_1547
  6. They should be a nice brown color by the time you’re finished cooking (5+ minutes). Watch to make sure the sugar melts and crystallizes but does not burn!.
  7. Eat your face off and quote Shrek repeatedly. IMG_1553

They are so delicious and way better than any other waffle I’ve ever tried…I can’t recommend them enough, if you have the energy! When you wish upon a waffle, dreams really do come true assuming you have crack sugar…I mean Belgian pearl sugar.

The extra dough can also be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen until you have a craving at a later date…you never know when the waffle urge might strike!

Get Cooking

As a product of my generation, it’s safe to assume that I am dependent on the internet for a lot of information. There is just no substitute for the google machine. Despite the awesome powers of the world wide web, sometimes you really can’t beat the feel and experience of a good, old-fashioned, paper-and-ink, tangible, book. This applies to the heaping piles of  books I’ve read and enjoyed over the years and refuse to get rid of–our movers can testify to the truth in that statement. However, everyone has different taste in literature, so I’m not sure it’s my place to dictate what novels or biographies you should delve into and add to your shelves. Conveniently though, we all do have tastebuds, which means we can all enjoy a good cookbook or twelve. Get Cooking
Cookbooks make a great addition to your recipe repertoire, as well as to stylish bookshelves, counter-tops, and coffee tables everywhere. I picked the books shown above based on certain criteria:
  1. Accessibility: By this I mean you have a fighting chance of finding the ingredients near you. This seems like a low bar to set the standard for cookbooks, but check out The French Laundry Cookbook for a head-scratching experience. Also, the skill-level required to make these recipes is not unrealistic.
  2. Deliciousness: All the books listed offer truly epic recipes on a scale of one to omnomnomnomnomnomnom.
  3. Photography: A good cookbook needs to have pretty pictures, even if you can’t replicate the product perfectly, it’s inspiring to see how beautiful food can look!
  4. Informative: You can learn a lot from these cookbooks. Jason Vale is the master of juices and offers a ton of advice regarding nutrition and overall wellness, while Jose Garces gives a history of Spanish cuisine as well as meal planning advice to appreciate the flavors of various Spanish cultures.
I hope you invest in some of these books, I know I love Garces’s recipe for yuca bread and can’t wait to make all the juice recipes from Vale’s book. Not to mention all the desserts in the Bouchon bakery cookbook! So in the spirit of learning and eating, pick up a book and page through until you land on a picture of something truly wonderful looking, and get cooking!
P.S. Not everything you read on the internet (or in books, admittedly) is true (SURPRISE!), but at least you have a fighting chance of honest writing with cookbooks. An editor, or two, did have to page through those recipes before publication. Plus, let’s be honest, there is no such guarantee with Pinterest recipes.

Let’s Eat: Extravagantly

I think a (large) morsel of food this extravagant deserves a story and sharing so without any distraction…IMG_1387

There once was a girl who wandered the vast world wide web, seeking answers to the question–what shall I make for our dinner party dessert? Cupcakes were a nice bite but awfully trite…cookies were too casual and brownies were old news, so a cake it had to be…

After searching and sighing in dismay, she came upon a wondrous cake…a truly magnificent looking beauty. “That’s the one!” Said she. A tuxedo cake done up in true black and white, looking strikingly handsome and truly remarkable. IMG_1388

Peering over to investigate the chosen one, her guy said “No! don’t do it! It’s too complicated looking–you’ll be stressed, everything will be a mess, it’s not worth it! Save yourself” (maybe I’m embellishing…)

“Nonsense!” She said, “It’s beautiful and glorious and a sure crowd pleaser, with time and patience it’ll go off without a hitch.” And so the recipe became reality and there was much planning, baking, frosting, ganache-ing, and then clapping when it was presented with much fuss and festivity…and then much eating and more groaning from the cake-eaters.

Here is the recipe that started this extravagant affair. However, I was not impressed with the chocolate cake recipe so I went to my go-to chocolate cake recipe and was much  happier with the results. Her recipe for the vanilla layers is easy and comes out very nicely though!

Instead of the raspberry white chocolate frosting (I associate white chocolate with crimes against humanity, if we’re being honest) I made the simplest vanilla buttercream recipe, which you can double or triple as your heart desires.

  • Beat 1 cup of soft, room-temperature butter until creamy and smooth.
  • Gradually add 3 cups confectioners sugar, until well incorporated.
  • Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (my favorite!) and 1-2 tablespoons cream or milk to soften the mixture
  • When smooth and well mixed, slap it on your cake (or pipe it) with a butter knife or frosting knife.

Tips for Tuxedo Cake:

  • Plan–I made the cakes a day in advance so I could freeze them overnight (wrapped in plastic wrap, in a gallon zip-loc bag)
  • Let the chocolate cakes barely  thaw 5-6 minutes before slicing them in half horizontally, they get harder to work with faster.
  • I froze the cake inbetween doing the first four layers (frosting filling, raspberry filling alternating) and the last four, just to keep everything nice and chilly. I also was very deliberate about freezing it after the crumb coat, the first frosting coat, and after the final one that I smoothed out. I think it helps make the cake more stable as you manipulate it.
  • As always, be very careful when making ganache because it’s liable to break (as the recipe creator noted from her own experience). I find that being exceedingly gentle as you mix, waiting 3-4 minutes for the hot cream to melt the chocolate, and working to make sure very little air gets incorporated, is a sure way to keep your ganache smooth.

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Her recipe gets slightly confusing when talking about slicing the cake when cold but serving at room temperature. I found that we had no trouble at all slicing the cake at room temperature right before serving. I poured the ganache over the cake about 6 hours before we served and there was no trouble at all! Plus, we don’t even have a cake stand or serving knife here so you know it can’t be that hard.

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This cake was an absolute crowd pleaser– there was a chorous of delighted eating commentary and praise. If an occasion arises where you want to make a real show stopper, you can never go wrong with a classic tux! It’s almost too pretty to eat…almost.

So in conclusion, they lived happily ever after with full tummies and sugar rushes. The end!

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Let’s Eat: Dumplings

Last night I decided to mix things up and try some new recipes, and I’m very pleased to say that all of them were a rousing success. I made korean beef and shrimp dumplings. While the beef was a crowd favorite (given the fact that this crowd consisted of guys, no surprise there),  the shrimp dumplings seemed to earn a place permanently in everyone’s heart. I’m particularly fond of them because they were deceptively easy, leaving everyone else  impressed with the results while I exerted minimal effort in constructing them. In the spirit of sharing, it seems only fair to spill the recipe so everyone else can enjoy them too!

Shrimp (and other) Dumplings 

You’ll Need:

  • Wonton wrappers (available in the freezer aisle at most grocers)
  • 1.5 lbs Shrimp peeled, deveined, and chopped
  • 1.5 cups, shredded green cabbage
  • 4-5 scallions, finely diced
  • Scant handful of Mushrooms, finely chopped
  • Ginger root, about half an inch, peeled (use a spoon) and finely grated
  • 1 Teaspoon mirin
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon oil (sesame, olive, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make:

  1. Combine all ingredients (except wonton wrappers) in a bowl and mix well
  2. Set out a bowl of warm water and clear a clean, dry workspace
  3. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and a dusting of cornstarch or flour
  4. Lay out your wonton wrapper on the workspace and fill with about a quarter sized dollop of filling20140307-112455.jpg
  5. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with water, fold over, and press to seal. Set on cookie sheet. Repeat until you have desired amount of wontons. 20140307-112504.jpg20140307-112514.jpg
  6. Heat up a frying pan with just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom.
  7. Once the oil in the pan is very hot, place wontons (not touching) in a single layer in the pan and fry until bottom is browned. Flip them and once both sides are brown, removed and set on paper towel lined dish and serve immediately. They’re delicious on their own, with soy sauce or with any asian dipping sauce

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There would have been more pictures, except there was a lot of eating at the time, which left little patience/opportunity for a full photo shoot. Sorry!

However, alternative wonton fillings could include:

  • Crab, cream cheese, garlic, soy sauce
  • All vegetables, add sweet peppers, for example
  • Ground pork, scallions, egg, shrimp, soy sauce, salt and pepper

Instead of frying, you can also bake the filled wontons in the oven at 425 degrees (spray pan with non-stick spray) until lightly browned. Also, you can always make soup with them too: bring broth of your choice to boil over medium heat and add wontons, cook for about 5 minutes and then add other soup ingredients (shrimp, bok choy, you call) and simmer.

In case you can’t already tell, wontons are pretty easy to work with and the results are delicious. I’ve heard you can fill them with sweet fillings too, so stay tuned to see if that experiment ever pans out. In the meantime, happy wontoning and happy Friday!

Let’s Eat: Greek

While I’m enthusiastic about the German food we get to indulge in on a regular basis, sometimes it is nice to mix it up a little. Thankfully, there is a ready supply of different restaurants, cafes, and bars willing to help us out. Of the many options though, Greek is always a safe and delicious bet.  I love mediterranean cuisine so I’m never disappointed. However, last week we just didn’t feel like venturing out, so I decided to bring the Greek food in and make it myself. Since I was  pleasantly surprised with the results, I thought it was only fair to share them with you.

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First, we had cous cous salad. It was healthy, hearty and flavorful. To make your own, the first thing you’ll need is to make the cous cous according to package directions. You can use regular cous cous, pearl cous cous, whole grain cous cous or a mixture of the three. Once all the liquid is absorbed, let it cool. Meanwhile, prep your dressing.

For the dressing I like to mix, two generous tablespoons of plain hummus, the juice of one lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Set aside.

Lastly, this salad can be a main dish or a side, so anything goes. Some suggestions for what to put in yours are:

  • Cucumbers, peeled and diced
  • Grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • Chic peas, rinsed
  • Golden raisins
  • Pine nuts
  • feta cheese, crumbled
  • asparagus tips
  • kale and spinach, sautéed
  • Roasted squash
  • Roasted red peppers and tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • Flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Avocado, cubed
  • Bell peppers, diced
  • You can also sneak in some quinoa and chia
  • Top with roasted chicken or salmon leftovers for a hearty and satisfying meal

Add all of your ingredients to the cous cous, drizzle in your dressing, and toss well so everything is thoroughly combined. You can eat it then, slightly warm, or refrigerate it for a few hours until cool.

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Secondly, you’ll need the Tzatziki sauce:

  • 3 cups plain greek yogurt, preferably Fage 0%
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 english cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped or dried dill
  • Mix all ingredients together and let chill covered in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Finally, I took some whole wheat pita bread and warmed it up in the oven so it was deliciously chewy and soft. I topped it with leftover shredded spicy chicken from the crockpot,  spinach, and the tzatziki sauce. It was crazy simple and so so so delicious. Next time, if I’m feeling ambitious, I might give this recipe for homemade pita a try.

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While most everything in Germany is deutsch to me, Greek food is an easy opportunity to incorporate some vegetables and complex carbs in our diet…plus the results are delicious. However, it does provoke the need to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so consider yourself warned.