Thursday, June 30, 2011

Energize, Energize, Energize

It's been quite a long week with work travel and lots of meetings - as well as the exciting anticipation of the upcoming holiday weekend. These are times when I drink a lot of coffee and really wake up just looking for my first cup. The funny thing many of you may not know is that I can NOT make coffee - or eggs for that matter. I leave these morning tasks to my husband or the cafe down the block, and I don't feel bad!

Image from Frugalista

I do however have some coffee favs and there just happens to be one here near my hotel. Peet's Coffee & Tea is a no-nonsense coffee shop that places just as much emphasis on tea as it does the black stuff (and they have great rolls too). If I had more time I'd relax in their comfy little shop and take my time sipping a cappuccino - but right now it's back to start my day feeling a little more awake.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let the Menu Planning Begin!

We're one week out from the biggest "Food Beautiful" party of the season - July 3rd fireworks on the beach! Although we're keeping the staples simple: burgers (veggie, turkey and beef), hotdogs and bbq chicken I have some surprises in store to keep our tastebuds happy and interested on this festive day. I'm spending the rest of today determining the secret menu that has to be easy since I have a busy week ahead.
How about these beauties from Simply Caked?

Since I'm still planning away, let me know what you're craving and we'll give it a try next week - and maybe send you a taste!

Monday, June 20, 2011

What's GOOD Olive Oil?

I had an email request the other night with my favorite question of all  - "so just what qualifies as good olive oil???" There isn't an easy formula to answer this question, but I've got some tips to help and then the rest is up to your taste buds.
Check out homemade-recipes for some olive oil education (and great photos too!)

  • I love imported olive oils, think Greece, Italy, Spain and France. For my "everyday" oil I tend to use one from Greece or Italy. These are harder to find depending on where you live but here in MA we have some good Mediterranean markets that can help. (Try Sevan Bakery in Watertown or Sophia's Greek Pantry in Belmont. Here on the South Shore there's Euro Mart in Hingham.)
  • Taste what you buy! It's almost like wine, everyone has a different palette and some people are going to prefer strong bold flavors while others are looking for more fruity bites. If you have a free Saturday afternoon head over to the Boston Olive Oil Company on Newbury St and try a bunch of different oils. You can learn a ton about each one and really determine what flavor suits you best!
  • Think more local - there are also great oils from California and Oregon. I find these to be lighter in taste and a great and affordable option. Head over to Trader Joe's and try any of their Pacific Coast olive oils, especially this summer.
  • Last but not least is Whole Foods. They have an entire section of imported oils that range in price and flavor. My favorite is the Veroilo from Italy 

 Most importantly is to grab some good bread, a little dish and dip away. In no time you'll discover the different flavors and exactly which one pleases your palette!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cookbooks are My Textbooks

My close friends know that I read cookbooks like other people read chapter books. I highlight, make notes and re-read night after night. Some of the best cookbooks are those that include little nuggets of info that change a technique or transform a recipe.

So what am I reading right now??? I'm on my third read of Joanne Chang's flour cookbook. I love her story, the truth of her recipes and the breadth of flavors she creates. (big tip: she's working on another cookbook as we speak.) And if you're a Bostonian aren't you lucky enough to be able to visit one of her 3 flour cafes. Beware if you go on a weekend morning right when they open there will be a line, but trust me it's worth the wait.

And now I need your help, should I test a muffin or cookie recipe this weekend - or both?!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dough + Sauce + Cheese = Pizza

Pizza is made from the most simplest ingredients that it should be a home run, slam dunk, puck in net (Go Bruins!) every time. Sadly I've tasted more average pizzas than success slices.

But then there's Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy and they get it right. Simply one of the best meals I've ever eaten and completely affordable too! Pizza flavors are based off of simple ingredients that don't combine more than 2 or 3 toppings so each flavor is actually tasted.

I think one of the biggest lessons is to use fresh. When you're only combining three big staple ingredients you need to bring your A game with each flavor. That's fresh dough, hand tossed, fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and touch of basil. The idea is that the flavors complement each other as opposed to competing for the spotlight.

And these are the guys that make it happen - day after day, pizza after pizza. I think we can learn from them, fresh makes it best!

Monday, June 13, 2011

When 2 Good Things Meet

I have 2 favorites that cure a bad day and help me celebrate a great one - red wine and ice cream! Just pour a glass and take a spoonful or two and you're really all set for the night. It couldn't get any better....

Until someone decides to combine these 2 flavors at the Florence Gelato festival and create vino gelato - heaven! While in Florence we happened upon this great little festival where you can try all different flavors from the local Gelato vendors.Some of our favs included Greek yogurt, strawberry and hazelnut, but the true winner was vino gelato. It tasted like a robust glass of red wine and a cool scoop of gelato all in one bite.
Now only if I could figure out how to ship some of this masterpiece over to the U.S.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Florence, Florence and it's Tuscan Treats

And now we head on over to Florence - I have a special place in my tastebuds for this small Tuscan town! Just because your in Italy doesn't mean you'll have the same type of food over and over again. Florence represents Tuscan cooking, which can be equated to those hearty homemade dishes that remind you of a grandma, any grandma. You'll even notice the plates scream - "come on in, you're home!"

Florence is known for bistecca alla fiorentina, which is a t-bone steak simple grilled over fire until just rare. And that's just what I ordered.
To be honest I'm not a diner who orders steak on a night out, but this one was a great choice. It was simply grilled, juicy and flavorful. Just some simple herbs, but whatever grandma is doing back there, it's amazing!

My husband (yes, he's now my husband folks!) went all pasta this night with gorgonzola ravioli. Again you can see how Florence creates hearty dishes that really ooze with comfort. I was surprised with how light the ravioli tasted and how delicate the gorgonzola flavor was to the taste. "Grandma, do you have help back there?"
Coupled with a bottle of Chianti we dined for over 2 hours and enjoyed every bite. I'm now off to find some Tuscan serving dishes of my own!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dinner & Dessert - Roman Style

Our next bite on this Italian tour is in a little place called Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa in Rome where we enjoyed two of our favorite dishes - Fettuccine Alfredo and Tiramisu (a sigh of happiness). Our close friends gave us a wedding gift to this restaurant and it was definitely a winner!

Now let me preface this in saying I'm not a huge fan of Fettuccine Alfredo as I find it to be a heavy dish with no distinct flavor. My husband however is a through and through Alfredo fan. And I think I've been converted. Well, only if it's made as it is at Alfredo's alla Scrofa. First, they mix the noodles and the sauce right at the table so you know the dish is fresh and you can see the lightness in every toss. Which brings me to my next point - these homemade noodles were as light as air, barely weighing in your stomach yet providing a perfect base for the sauce. And for the sauce, it wasn't thick as I've seen many times before but actually disappeared into the noodles and really provided a distinct cheese taste that wasn't overbearing in any sense.
Alfredo's you win the Alfredo Award!
And now on to dessert, my love of tiramisu. I'm not a huge " restaurant dessert" fan unless it's ice cream (which in my mind is a whole different category), but I love tiramisu. It provides my coffee fix with a little cake and cream mixed in. I tried a couple of versions while in Italy and I think Alfredo's won the award! Tiramisu is not made equal everywhere. Again this dish was light but not forgettable and coffee-flavored but not demanding. It was the perfect end to a great meal out.
Tiramisu I will try to recreate you!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Run, Don't Walk - It's Scooper Bowl

It's that time of year again folks - when ice cream meets heat, meets charity, meets flavors galore here in Boston! I'm talking about the Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl, which is all over City Hall Plaza until Thursday. My favorite part is that you can check out all the flavors here, and then plan out your route of attack before you go. So go on, get your ice cream licking on and no, it's not wrong to try each and every flavor - it's for charity remember!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Just the Basics...Italian Style

And now we begin our taste of Italy one little (or big) bite at a time. Dismiss all those memories of what you thought was pasta, pizza and wine because the taste, simplicity and freshness will bring a whole new meaning to some of your favorites. Today we start with the basics - simple ingredients placed on a plate to enjoy.


Prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella are nothing like you taste here in the U.S. This is one the appetizers you will see all over Italy - from Rome to Florence to the Coast. The Italian ham (that's not smoked) has a very silky and light flavor that pairs extremely well with fresh buffalo mozzarella. The cheese is not overly soggy or buttery but rather has texture and silkiness that smooths out the prosciutto while also giving it a more intense flavor. It's funny how that little white cheese has so much power!

Another interesting tidbit...buffalo mozzarella is actually a modern version of the more traditional mozzarella cheese, not an Italian staple that has been around all that long.

I urge you to try this simple yet delicious entrance into your meal at various locations. You'll learn to become picky about which ham has just the right tang and which cheese has the best smoothness to round out the dish. Our favorite actually came from our last night in Positano at Ristorante Mediterraneo...Bon Appetite!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

And now back to our regularly scheduled program....

After 2 amazing weeks - wedding + honeymoon included, I'm back to providing you the food insight you all crave. Don't worry I spent some serious time documenting our food journey across Italy and will bring you each and every morsel so you don't miss a bite.

But first let's start with some easy summer Sunday tastes - Bruschetta
Simple to make, appealing to the eyes and really doesn't have an enemy in sight!

Red Onion
GOOD Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Toasted Bread

Use fresh tomatoes - if they aren't ripe leave them on your counter for a couple of days to let some of the flavor mature. Cut the tomatoes into bitesize pieces and place in a bowl. Don't  discard the juice as this helps create the base for Bruschetta flavor. Then, depending on your tastes (remember taste everything along the way) add chopped red onion, garlic and basil. Pour a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper and mix.

Now here's where the real recipe comes to live - let the mixture sit, yes sit! You want the flavors to meld together and become one Bruschetta instead of individual ingredients. Grill some bread, top with the tomato mixture and sit back and enjoy. We love you summer!