Tuesday, December 14, 2010

my first visit from Sinterklaas!

Dear Shauna aka Shaunty B.
you don't know me that well,
but hearing my name 
will surely ring a bell.
I come this night all the 
way from Spain
and am happily to bring
you this warm present by train.
Unfortunately my horse is ill 
tonight and as you might 
know this time on this special
eve is always thight. 
I hope you enjoy the
cold winter in Colorno
this special year.
before you know
it will disapear.
spring will come and
you will shine like a blom
because you are the bom! :-)
yours sincerely,

"Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading."- Never let me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro.

The First Snow of the Winter and an Apres-Ski Party.

Snow came to Colorno on the 1st of December. We started with snow in Colorno, and are ending with snow. It was not enough to cancel classes like on the first day. As we crossed the bridge to class, we found the Christmas tree being put up in Piazza Garibaldi. It was a little skimpy, making me feel cold just looking at the bare, naked trunk that barely supported the evergreen branches, but festive Colorno made me happy. 
 Being stuck inside later that night staring out in the blanketing white snow, the winter weather inspired us to divert our attention away from our barely concentrated year's end homework assignments and plan a Apres-ski Party. We had cocktail class in the afternoon (rough life) and a free day for some Italian holiday the next day (really rough life) so it was perfect to plan a themed party! 
snow fell from the sky
With some construction paper, scissors, tape, a visit to the euro store and a bag full of leftover toilet paper rolls, our creativity really shone. I like to think we transformed our little apartment into a winter wonderland  where even Anton from Tyrol would be impressed. 
snow flakes frosted the windows 
what's green and goes down a hill?
santa even popped in for a visit.
toilet roll holders are a waste of an invention.
for some reason we kept a bag full of empty rolls.
for some reason we must've known they'd be put to use.

dinky wreath.
yes those are chocolate coin wrappers
gluwine. mulled wine.
we even had a christmas tree!
the boys. 
Themed costumes were recommended. Decked out in winter clothes, despite the cold December night air, the windows were opened to cool us off.
Asher won the prize for best costume.
and best dj.
hostess with the mostess.
we even had Apres-ski dance moves:
moguls! downhill! jump! cross-country!

And the dancing started immediately and lasted into the night...until the neighbours pretended to call the police. ugh! they are noisy all the time morning into night!

Monday, December 13, 2010

"God made food; the devil the cooks." — James Joyce (Ulysses)

One of our classes was in the culinary school ALMA taught by Chef Bruno Ruffini. The lesson was based around the architecture of cuisine: stock. Even more basic than knowing have to make a sauce, according to Escoffier, a cook can't do anything serious without knowing a serious stock. Chef Bruno told us that we have to be worried while cooking, almost paranoid because you have to pay attention and be patient throughout the cooking process regardless of your skills. The skills don't matter in the final dish if you haven't the quality ingredients (both cut and choice) in which to make it.

These are necessarily recipes, just some good tips to consider when making stock/broth, sauces and emulsions.


a fondo is a starting point - anything can be enriched with this base.


  • use veal bones which include the knees and legs with a little bit of meat attached because the richest part of the bone marrow is in tissue/collagen 
  • use 1/3 vegetables to the weight of the bones (300g veg = 1 kilo bones)
  • dice the mirapoix vegetables (carrots, celery, onion) into 1cm cuts and cover with cold water. Whole vegetables poked with cloves can be used to create a deeper flavour for a soup broth for example rather than a stock. But cut vegetables simmered for so long will melt and turn the broth cloudy. 
  • add a bouquet grain (top leaf of the leek which is most fibrous and last longer than the white part with inside: bay leaf, parsley stems which are more aromatic and won't melt like the leaves, and a thyme sprig) tie a string around it and tie it to the pot handle like a fishing rod. Fine herbs will melt too quickly and will turn the broth bitter.
  • bring to boil as fast as possible to kill bacteria (the broth can last longer for use afterwards) then simmer for 3 hours - don't boil - the vegetables need time for extracting the flavours and aromas
  • don't mix during the simmering process because you don't want to incorporate the impurities. Instead, skim the top frequently.
  • fish bone (use flat fish like flounder and sole that are delicate and basic), leek, celery, onion, jerusalem artichoke - all white vegetables
  • it's better to start basic and enrich along the way to add aromas
  • can use a fresh fennel spring that won't melt because it only cooks for 30-40 minutes.
  • roast veal bones for 50 minutes at 200C (still the knees and legs). Toasting makes the broth brown by adding colour and a deeper flavour. The roasted bones will also be preserved for longer during cooking. Use smaller cuts because during roasting, the bones will have a protective film around them and the smaller cut will allow the browth to reach and absorb the aromas in the middle of the bones. Add trotters (raw, whole and washed, including the skin and nails for carotene) because they are rich in collagen/tendons.
  • melt butter in an already heated pan and add a crushed garlic clove along with the mirapoix (use 1/3 vegetables to the weight of the bones (300g veg = 1 kilo bones)) and roast on high heat. Make sure the vegetables are evenly in a single layer because the water needs room to evaporate otherwise the vegetables will be stewed. This method coats the vegetables with a protective skin so they can cook for longer without melting. Drain on a paper towel and discard the fat. 
  • Sear meat with olive oil instead of butter because butter has a lower smoking temperature
  • Remember to continuously skim the sides of the pot as the simmering will cause some evaporation. If the impurities stay on the side of the pot, they will dry out, burn (effects the taste) and drop back into the pot (causing a cloudy effect).
  • Add cold water (or white broth) to cover. Cold water is better for infusion because there are no alkaloids and non tannins. Can also add extra ice. Bring to a boil as fast as possible them simmer for 6 hours. 
  • After cooking the brown broth for six hours, filter it 4 times. First, with a pasta colander to get rid of the largest pieces. Second, with a china cup. Third, with a sieve. Fourth, with linen/cheese cloth. It's very simple, but requires a lot of attention. 
  • Reduce over low heat. 
  • Change to a smaller pot during reduction because the larger pot will be too large and burn/turn bitter with a large surface area.
With these three basic stocks, you can start to make sauces! 

Au Jus
  • With the juices from roasted meat, white stock, brown stock, glace, wine or water can be added
  • it is reduced brown stock enriched with roasted veal meat (not added raw). 
  • heat pan on low heat then add butter and when it is hot, add the meat in a thin, even layer so that the moisture has room to evaporate. Don't leave empty spaces on the pan because the butter will burn there (if butter is added to a cold pan that is then heated, the butter will melt unevenly and the first melt will burn).
  • keep cleaning the sides of the pan to remove any burnt butter
  • there is no ratio for meat to glassa - the more meat will be a richer sauce but it is usually 1/2 and 1/2 (i kilo glass for 1 kilo of meat)
  • When the meat is just seared, put on a paper towel to drain, absorb and discard the fat. With the seared parts left in the pan, start to deglaze them with the glass (or any) stock - just a spoonful to detach them from the pan and becomes thick enough to cover a spoon. 
  • Add this thick sauce to the broth and add the seared meat. The sauce will be ready when the meat is fully cooked
  • Remember to skim the sides of the pan!
  • blanch the tomatoes, peel and collect the seeds to make tomato water (seeds and skins passed through a sieve)
  • cut a shallot in brunoise size -> delicately cut lengthwise then crosswise into little cubes. it is very volatile vegetable and you don't want to lose any juice or aromas on the cutting board.
  • warm a pot and add extra virgin olive oil, crush garlic (skins will fall off) and the brunoise shallot - let it sweat without colouring - you don't want to roast it. 
  • Add cut tomatoes when translucent without colouring, just concentrating the aromas 
  • Add 1/3 of the tomato water
  • Discard the garlic. 
  • Season at the end becasue water will evaporate during cooking and then the salt content ratio will not be correct. 
"it's not their fault if they are out of season"

  • 500g fresh milk, 35g butter, 35g sifted flour
  • bring milk to a boil in a pot, meanwhile melt the butter to make a roux (equal amounts of butter and flour)
  • Roux: white (until melted); blonde (toasted 2-3 minutes longer); dark (clarified butter and cooked for longer - clarified butter because otehrwise it will burn). White roux should be like a paste
  • Add heated milk to the roux and whisk to remove lumps. Boil 1-2 minutes and then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 
  • 500g stock, 35g butter, 35g sifted flour
  • same, just add stock instead of milk
  • 500g stock, 250g fresh cream,  35g butter, 35g sifted flour
  • After making the Véloute, add fresh cream 
  • Can enrich with mushrooms and lemon juice
  • 500g brown stock with 1/2 roux (17g butter with 17g sifted flour)
  • reduce with a spoonful of reduced tomato sauce (passed through a sieve) and steamed mushroom juice (also passed through a sieve just to get the essence of mushroom)
  • let it reduce until it is of a glazed/glasse consistency.
Tip: if you are using frozen stock, reheat it upside down through a cheese cloth. the impurities will be at the bottom of the stock and you can get rid of them before the stock is completely melted.

1. VINAIGRETTE (citronette)
  • unstable. it's all about the balance between vinegar, fat and water (or lemon juice for citronette)
  • dissolve salt with vinegar with a whisk (salt needs acid as it won't melt on its own in fat). Add a tip of the spoon of mustard to taste because 1. the French like it and 2. mustard seed powder acts as a stabilizer
  • add extra virgin olive oil while whisking, drop by drop, because you have to break the fat. The smaller drops with a stronger/faster whisking motion will create a more stable vinegarette. Continue until it thickens
  • stable.
  • room temperature eggs (natural stabilizer - will last longer if cooked a litte aka "denatured"), acidic water (vinegar or lemon-water), and oil (sunflower oil is preferred because extra virgin has a very strong taste however Ligurian and Garda olive oils are more mild)
  • warm vinegar and water and dissolve the salt. add mustard if you like, then the yolk and whisk immediately so there is no coagulation from the water and vinegar. 
  • Add the oil to emulsify, but only when the balance is even and not too oily. 
  • Rebalance with a little water if it breaks
  • Mayo can be mixed with tomato paste, pesto, vegetable puree, herbs, anchovy, olive paste, squid ink.....
  • same was as mayonnaise but use clarified butter instead of oil. 
  • serve and keep warm
  • same as above but with a reduction of brunoise shallot, vinegar and tarragon whisked together then add egg yolk, clarified butter and top with fresh tarragon
  • same as above but substitute mint for tarragon
  • great with goose or lamb
  • Hollandaise sauce with veal stock added 
  • Hollandaise sauce with tomato paste
  • Hollandaise sauce with blood orange juice, topped with juice and zest
  • Hollandaise sauce with brunoise vegetables mixed in

This class almost makes me want to go to culinary school. But more realistically, grateful and excited for my internship.

A Multinational Thanksgiving in Colorno, Italy

196 photos. 100 italians. 37 fist pumps. 30 alma kids. 26 unisg students. 21 drinks spilled. 16 different countries. 9 Nh-ers. 7 hours of dancing on tables. 6 creepers. 5 tutors. 4 tables full of food. 3 turkeys. 3 bottles of Prosecco. 2 professors. 2 "bomb-diggity" dj's. 1 secret ingredient. 1 crowd surfer. 1 allergic reaction. 1 american holiday. 1 tiny town pub in italy. unlimited tear-inducing laughs.

For all the Americans who felt homesick, I think this holiday in Italy really lived up to some serious expectations and surpassed any judgements foreigners have about what Thanksgiving is all about. Usually, you eat so much that you can only slouch on the couch and daze at the football on the TV. However, this year, after gorging on delicious recreations of everyone's family's favourites, the turkey-fest was filled with dancing on wooden picnic tables to infamous pop music on repeat. What a way to burn off all those calories! I had a blast. 

I'm not sure if I can include any photographs in this post or if they are too incriminating. There are fantastic videos on youtube though, if you can find them...

paper plates and plastic utensils.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Alba Truffle Festival

When in Piemonte during autumn...take advantage of the Truffle Festival in Alba. We were there on the first day, and we were there on the last day. Somehow I missed the huge tent of truffle sellers on the first day - maybe I was distracted by the pig heads, games, hot polenta and bottles of wine.... Arina and I stopped by during our Piemonte weekend trip.  Stall after stall sold various truffles of all sorts of sizes and I found it overwhelmingly impossible to decide which one to buy from - not that it was within my budget to afford a truffle, but just if, IF I wanted to, I would assume I would be confused.  The sellers were anxious to get rid of the last of the season's truffles but it was just too much for me. We took advantage of the samples, obviously, pretended we were interested consumers and picked up some pamphlets, but ultimately left empty handed and wondered if it was worth it to spent the 3 euro to enter the earth-hunter's exhibition. I think so.

truffled cheese
lady & the tramp dolls are truffle-entincing


Monday, December 6, 2010

"Life itself is the proper binge." — Julia Child

The start of winter in Northern Italy comes with what I like to call "culatello weather." Thick, thick white fog covers the damp ground not only in the morning mist, but throughout the dreary day and into the dark night. It is eerily the perfect backdrop for a scary movie and hibernating under the covers in bed all winter is the only source of salvation. Walking 3 minutes to and from class in this weather is one thing, but driving along unlit winding roads around the unfamiliar hills of Piemonte is another. After we left Torino, we followed Mapquest directions to a little town outside of Asti, where we had found a cheap b&b on Hostelworld.com the night before. It was barely 6pm and the sky was completely black and the fog surrounded us in Checky G along the single-car lane that weaved up and down and around the fog-veiled vineyards. We pulled up one driveway where we were greeted by invisible barking dogs that echoed in the dark. One house, despite a peak through the window, ignored our knocks and eventually came out to yell at us while another neighbour kindly gave us the correct directions as we nodded gratefully, despite the fragmented understanding of Italian. 

"Um, did you understand what she said?"
"Yeah, just take a right at the bottom of the hill, then after 15 or was it 50 meters there will be a cemetery with a big wall I think and um....yeah. We'll figure it out."

One more U-turn and another stop for directions we eventually found the little b&b, il Grappolo. We buzzed through the gate and were greeted by a befuddled man as we introduced ourselves. A woman came out, utterly confused and chattering away in Italian, but graciously invited us into her warm home where we were greeted by three yapping dogs. They hadn't received our reservation, hence the confusion, but told us the heat would be on in the guest house shortly and asked us if we would please stay for dinner. Of course! The couple ran the b&b for another family who owned it and worked mostly in the vineyard. Ana, the woman, called the family's daughter, Roberta, who spoke English and even though Ana and her husband talked to us as though we understood/spoke Italian fluently, it was nice to have an English translation.

Despite being unprepared for 4 extra people for dinner (Roberta's boyfriend also came) Ana whipped out the most extraordinary dinner as though she had been cooking all day - which she probably was - and apologized that she didn't have more food for us. Everything, including the wine, was homemade and from their garden. We started with antipasto of artichokes in oil with herbs, preserved red peppers with tuna, and crusty loafs of bread. Then we had a warm bowl of meaty minestrone soup with little round pasta floating on top. Next we had bollito and another kind of meat with different dipping sauces. And for dessert we had peaches and figs preserved in their own sweet juices. Ana was so enthusiastic about food and cooking. Her husband is gone for 12 hours a day so she cooks because she enjoys it. She showed us her cupboard full of preservatives, jams, jellys and oils. 

the family's wine
apricot, pear & nut, sambucco, ketchup, apple & onion, sofrito of 7 gusto (carrot, onion, celery, salt, parsley, basil oil - same ratio of each), fig, peach, prune, red tomato, salsa piccante, pepper & onion in agro-dulce, sundried peppers with white wine, garlic and anchovy; porcini, green tomato...the list goes on. They are preserved in sunflower oil because olive oil doesn't last long and the flavour is too strong. They also don't go bad because she uses old methods that take hours and hours and is done piece by piece. 
one shelf
two shelf.
three shelf.
i lost count shelf.

The next morning, you can imagine the breakfast feast she set up for us. Ana had a cafe with us and stayed to chat the entire time as we had bread with cured meats and various cheeses to go along with a tray of vegetable spreads and another one of fruity jams. There was cereal and muesli, yogurts, blood orange juice, three different types of cake and plastic-wrapped croissants. We probably could've stayed there all day talking with her, but Barolo and Monforte d'Alba beckoned us and we were on our way - not without promises to come back and stay with her - not the guesthouse - next time. 

From La Cucina Piemontese by Alessandro Molinari Pradelli

Cogna (o mostarda d'uva)
5L di mosto d'uva - grape must (this will reduce to half)
300g di fichi - fig
300g di mele cotogne - quince
300 g di pera Martin sec - pear
6 gherigli di noce - walnuts
10 nocciole sgusciate - shelled hazelnuts
2 chiodi di garofano - cloves
un frammento di cannla - a bit of cinnamon
-> base recipe, can add whatever fruit you like

In a large pot, cook the must over low heat until it is reduced by half or even less. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, crush the walnuts, pine nuts, cloves and cinnamon. Add the chopped figs, quinces and pears (peeled and chopped) to the concentrated must and cook for another hour. Add the nutty paste, stir occasionally and cook for a few minutes until aromatic. Pour the mustard into glass jars and store in a cool place. To ensure, long aging, wrap the pots in a cotton cloth and place in a large pot to boil - this is a system to preserve any sauce.

Bagna Cudo
Signifies the end of the work in the vineyard. Don't boil, take it slowly so that all the flavours unite - appena appena!

200g acciughe salate (rosse di Spagne) - salted anchovy (Spanish Red)
6 spicci grossi di aglio - large garlic cloves
6 dl olio extra vergine di oliva - extra virgin olive oil
900g burro - butter
cardi gobbi - cardoons
2 limone - lemon, peperoni - pepper, topinambur - artichoke, cavolo - cabbage, porri - leeks, cipollotti - onions, rape bianche - turnips, mele - apples, zucca - pumpkin....

Eataly in Italy.

Arina and I took a road trip to Piemonte one weekend in November. The main reason for going was that I wanted to speak with a winery I visited in September about a possible work experience after graduation in March. I also didn't get a chance to go to Eataly while attending Terra Madre in October. I don't know what I expected from Eataly. It certainly carries some beautiful products but it feels more like a gallery than a grocery store. The vegetables are displayed as though they are being sold from a cart on a cobblestone street. There aren't crates on top of crates like most supermarkets, but a limited selection of carefully placed vegetables as though they are being set up for a still life painting. They burst with life as a woman sprays each with a water spritzer as though they are a rich couple lying on chaise lounge chairs on a beach in St Tropez and being cooled down by a tanned strappingly-good-looking butler. The same woman scurries over to us with plastic gloves before we even dare to touch a vegetable ourselves.

The seafood section carries curious varieites of fish, both fresh and packaged, as a young boy sits at a table looking completely bored as he offers passer-byers some samples.
origin: "medit" 

 The cheese counter is glorious and we pass by a couple times to taste the samples being offered.
The meat counter brightly showcases red cuts of meat from head to trotters to rolls of skin. All of it is from Italy, mostly Piemontese, none of it is Chianina. 
testa = head
feet smell better with rosemary.
i'm not sure what you do with pig skin.
We were overwhelmed by oodles of olive oils and a slew of pasta shapes and sizes. 
Over a margharita pizza (I really like the in-store dining option - who isn't hungry when surrounding by beautiful food?), we raised some questions which lead into a discussion and brought us to a shared confusion. We had thought that Eataly and Slow Food were connected, however, it appeared too fancy and seemed like the people that are able to afford to shop there would not be the same people that Slow Food is trying to protect. Maybe it just felt expensive because it looked expensive. My poor student's empty wallet refused me the ability of looking at prices or even considering a small purchase. The Slow Food Presidia products, which are part of Slow Food's face towards the world, were  kept downstairs with hardly any information about them (or at least from what I saw...) We were confused too about the qualifications to have products be sold in Eataly - how does Eataly choose which brands and what farmers to include and do they have to pay for shelf space - in which case many farmers would not be able to afford an inclusion in Eataly. While slowly devouring the last bite of thin crust pizza - saving the best bite with the most mozzarella and little sprig of basil - I couldn't help but think that it seemed like a big contradiction that only reinforced the idea people have about Slow Food being elitist. We learned in class that consumers can change the market, but if so, what does Eataly in Torino and opening up recently in NYC say about the current market? I couldn't tell if the shoppers were locals, regulars, or tourists, but they certainly were not the people we saw selling their products in Terra Madre. Maybe the prices are fair, and it is worthwhile to pay for high-quality products, maybe it was unusual to have such a shopping experience that was a combination of Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca that's so different from walking to the corner A&O, but regardless of what it is or what it represents, it's certainly good to be curious and discuss these questions. But then again, that's what we do all the time - talk about food, the future, the university, life in Italy and eat good pizza.
 With our heads filled with dizzying questions about our association with Slow Food and everything we have learned this year, we didn't leave empty handed - especially after we drove 3 hours! A 5L glass jug could be filled with 2 euro per litre of red Piemontese wine. This was within our budget, priorities, and was justified by deciding to share it with the neighbours ;) Anyways, the glass jug was beautiful - how could it not be filled with cheap yet drinkable wine?
  I wonder how the NYC Eataly will compare and if the words "food miles," "carbon footprints" or "local" will briefly escape my thoughts....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It seems to me that you won’t have had a proper series of adventures, unless you’ve gone through thick and thin. The End of the Beginning:Being the Adventures of a Small Snail, Avi

Chianina Cow.

The very last day of our very last stage was all about meat. We went to a butcher who specializes in the typical cow of Tuscany, the Chianina. It is from this old breed in which we gorged ourselves the juicy-raw bistecca alla fiorentina. In Macelleria Ricci, the owner, Enrico taught us about the cow - which he raises his own cattle a few miles away. 

The Chianina is the world's largest cattle. 

Enrico doesn't recommend eating meat every day, maybe 2 or 3 times a week is enough. It is low in cholesterol and high in iron.  Women should eat liver once a month though because it is high in Vitamin A. 
There are many parts of the cow that could be eaten, but most people want to eat the cuts of meat that they know and are familiar with. It is possible to get 36 different cuts, each one must be branded with the name (which is also how it is possible to know if you are really eating a bistecca alla fiorentina in Tuscany or not...) There is a loss of about 50% when the animal is cut up. 

 From the butcher, to the farm...
 The cows are considered to be free-range, but they only spend the first four months in the field and when they are pregnant. 
Must be pregnant (above)....the cows move inside during the cold months to fatten up (below). I don't know if it's possible to trust a label  - free range, grass-fed - without knowing exactly where the food comes from.
we were told that the cows are not friendly towards humans...

 ..but this one loved licking Asher's hand.
the cows are born brown and turn porcelain white with age. each of the cows are hand-picked for breeding perfection - depending on their colour, hair tufts, etc. They are part of summer's Palio in Siena where they represent freedom and purity.