Monday, April 30, 2012

Marco Canora Would Be Proud

I've spoken a bunch about my time trailing in the kitchen last year at Hearth and how awesome it was. The guys there just kick ass and I actually miss them! Chef Marco Canora is known for many things, but one of my favorites would be the gnocchi there at Hearth. They're perfectly pillowy soft, yet textured, and the sage butter is to die for. I'd never attempted making gnocchi before, but I used to watch the guys bang them out in a flash and I vowed to one day make my own.

Lucky for me, gnocchi day at school rolled around and I was psyched! Gnocchi are basically hand-rolled Italian style "dumplings". The name actually stems from the Italian word for 'lumps' and the most common ones you find (in the US anyway) are made from potatoes. I learned, however, that Italians make gnocchi out of lots of different things, even stale bread! As with everything else, the sauces used vary by region but you very often find gnocchi dressed in a butter sauce. Most are incredibly light in texture, especially if you're using the potato kind, so you can't have them weighed down by anything too heavy.

Quick side note. Each morning, we get into the kitchen and get our stations set up and our mise en place ready. We do that for about 15 minutes before Chef calls us up front and, at that point, we usually go through a series of slides about our recipes for the day. Chef will talk about various notes of importance, and it's a chance for us to absorb some of the history and information about the dishes. Honestly, I'd prefer less of that each day simply because it takes up valuable time. However, the way they teach us is very specific in terms of really putting the onus on each of us to pay attention and learn without being hand-held. It's good for us in the long run. Some mornings though, man...I'm just not awake. Anyway, just thought I'd show you an example:
Back to the food. We got to practice making a few different types of gnocchi, but I think my favorite remain the potato. When you do this kind, you want to use starchy potatoes (like russet) instead of waxy ones (like fingerling) because the starch helps with binding. This means you'll ultimately need less flour. You can either boil or bake the potatoes, but baking them is much better in my opinion because you want as little water as possible left in them once they're cooled. If water doesn't fully evaporate, it will make them gummy and dense. I had fun making my first ever gnocchi di patate and they came out fantastic:
I, too, did sage butter and I do believe Mr. Canora would be impressed. I should've brought him a bowl to try. Joking. I don't have that big of an ego, for goodness sake. 

The rest of the recipes were interesting but I didn't love them. We made gnudi (think ravioli filling without the pasta) which came out just ok. They were ricotta and spinach and, while they had a nice flavor, they didn't tickle my fancy. The gnocchi alla romana was so weird! It's a semolina gnocchi that's a specialty of Lazio during ancient Roman times. It's sort of like this thick porridge that you shape into a dough, flatten, add cheese, butter, ham and egg yolks to and then brown with more butter and top with more cheese:
Thank goodness we finally have a fat free recipe in our repertoire. In all seriousness, this just felt like an excessive, gluttonous dish with not enough flavor to justify all the terrible-for-you ingredients. 

The strangest dish of the day was definitely the strozzapreti. The story behind it, however, is kinda funny. Strozzapreti means "priest chokes" and comes from an old legend about how priests would come by parishioner's homes on Sundays conveniently just in time for dinner. They'd become greedy and eat so much that they'd choke, hence giving the dish its name. It's made with milk soaked stale bread and bound with eggs and cheese. You boil it, just like any other gnocchi or pasta, and it's finished in brown butter:
Making all this gnocchi totally made me appreciate what Canora and the guys do down at Hearth every single night. It takes a definite amount of love to make pasta of any kind daily so kudos to those guys. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be back there in charge of the daily gnocchi bonanza myself. Stranger things have happened... 

Friday, April 27, 2012

No Rest For The Weary

HOW does a weekend go by so fast? I bet a thousand of my blog posts start out that way. Honestly though, my trip to Chicago was much too quick. Our flight landed around midnight on Sunday and I was thrown right back into the grind at school come Monday.

I'm really shocked by what's about to come out of my mouth. I didn't think it was possible but...I am getting a little tired of pasta. Gasp! I know, that's blasphemous. Don't worry, I smacked my own hand and sent myself to bed without dinner. In all seriousness, I could never really be tired of pasta but it's definitely weighing on me, literally and figuratively. Too bad for me because we're moving into learning about pasta with regional sauces which are some of the best recipes that I really love. 

I keep talking about the regions of Italy. If you're like me before school, you have no idea what I'm talking about when I speak of them. Yes, I knew Italy is divided up just like any other country, but I honestly had no clue it was by 20 specific regions that completely define the whole country. I felt like an idiot on my first day of school, I'll just say that. From these regions, you get different provinces and there can be anywhere from 1 to 12 of them within that region. It's pretty cool and definitely far reaching when it comes to food. I can't even tell you how fascinating it is to learn about how one town a mere mile from another town can differ so greatly in their cuisine. It gives me so much to look forward to when I finally get to Italy and start exploring. To help deepen your understanding of all this, I've listed all 20 regions below, alphabetically just to be easy:

Aosta Valley
Emilia-Romagna (the region my school is in!)
Friuli- Venezia Giulia
Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol

I've also talked a lot about how each region has specific dishes they're known for that have become super popular globally, especially here in America. Some of these said dishes make me just want to kiss all the Italians and thank them because my life is better because of things like spaghetti carbonara.

We dealt with a few of the most common dishes the other day that have become widespread in popularity. Lucky for me, or much to my demise rather, I completely love each of them. I don't know many people who don't. We made spaghetti alle vongole, rigatoni con melanzane (eggplant), spaghetti alla carbonara (hooray!) and orecchiette con cime di rapa (broccoli rabe). With all of these dishes, we used pasta secca (dried) because you need a solid structure to build a base on with "chunky" ingredients like clams or eggplant. For the vongole (clams) dish, we had some really fantastic Manila clams that were a touch sweet and a perfect pairing with the base of white wine. Forgive the presentation photo, clearly Chef had tasted it already before I got to snap the picture:
Bryan, I really know the way to your heart now. That's for sure.

The rigatoni is one of those dishes I could eat day in and day out. When you're lucky enough to find amazing ingredients, the sparkle of fresh eggplant and basil is just awesome. This dish comes from southern Italy, particularly Sicily, and it uses rigatoni which comes from the word 'rigato' meaning ridged. The ridges in the pasta collect the sauce and cheese beautifully so each bite is pretty perfect:
On to the carbonara, mmm. This truly is one of my favorite pasta dishes but I never eat it. Frankly, it's just awful for you so it's definitely one of those treat or special occasion dinners. When Allison and I were in Rome last year, we sat down to our first real Italian dinner and I saw carbonara on the menu. I looked no further. It was the most delicious carbonara I've ever had. Well, guess what I learned? Carbonara originated in Rome, ha! No wonder. It's said to have originated at the end of World War II when American soldiers in Rome brought eggs and bacon to Italian friends, such as coal miners (carbonari), and they turned it into pasta sauce. Add in some heavy cream, parmigiano, pecorino and a few other treats, and you have carbonara: 
Now do you see why I don't eat this as a regular Friday night ritual? My heart would blow up. It's oh so delectable, though.

The orecchiette was such a bomb, ugh. We used the pasta we made the other day for it and it was just awful. Some parts of the pasta cooked to mush and others stayed hard as a rock. I did not take a photo of this dish. That's that.

Ok, gotta run. My arteries just asked me to drink a cup of lemon juice in hopes it'll eat away at some of the cholesterol rapidly building up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Quick Trek To Chicago

Back in January, two of my friends moved from New York to Chicago and left behind a trail of very sad people. Jeff and Suzanne, friends who have become dear to me, are two of the best people I know. Just do a little search on my blog for their names and you'll get an idea of the many amazing moments we've all shared! I met them through Colleen and instantly connected with Suzanne on a variety of levels. What's also pretty awesome is that she's my boyfriend's sister! I met her first and knew her for about a year before meeting Bryan. It's been wonderful being connected to both of them and getting to know the family of two people I love in different ways. At any rate, when Jeff and Suzanne decided for sure that they were moving, talk of a Chicago visit immediately went to the top of the priority list. Me, Allison, Colleen and Jessica all decided to book flights and chose the end of March to head out there. I can't even tell you how glad I am that we did.

I obviously had no idea how demanding school would be for me when we were booking tickets. As I've gotten deeper into my program, I can tell you that I was thrilled to have a weekend away. We work so hard everyday and the visit came at a perfect time for me. We went on the last weekend of March and, due to differing schedules, each of us flew out at different times. I arrived last around 10:30pm that Friday and I was just so happy to reunite with Suzanne and Jeff. Truthfully, I was thrilled to be with the girls too because, even being in the same city, we all have just been so busy and haven't been together in forever, period.

It was such a fun weekend for us. I've been to Chicago a couple of times but never really with ample time to see the city. Since it was kinda late on Friday, we stayed in and drank wine. I also finally got to have Chicago deep dish pizza for the first time and holy crapola, I died and went to heaven. Obviously, Colleen took awesome photos over the weekend so I'm stealing a few from her to show you. I might frame this and hang it in my apartment:
So. Good. 

Saturday, we went for a delicious brunch at Old Town Social. I fell in love with the place the minute Suzanne told me they have bloody marys that are served with meat and cheese stuffed in a pepper:
Um, yeah. Best bloody mary, ever. We had a really marvelous brunch and stayed for a few drinks after. Aren't we so cute:
We spent the rest of the day at another fun bar and met one of Suzanne and Jeff's good friends. We laughed harder than I have in so long and completely made the most of every moment together. Such a fun afternoon:
On the way home, we took a cab that was quite unique. There was one small seat and then open floor space so me, Jeff and Jessica were the lucky ones who got the floor seats: 
The fact that we'd been drinking made it obviously that much funnier, but we cracked up the whole ride home. Our plan was to nap and get something quick to eat and then venture back out but, well, that just didn't happen. Naps did:
Going back out didn't. That was ok though because, as usual, we had the most fun staying in anyway. Two words: Dance. Party. I'm actually really sad there aren't any photos of mine and Jessica's killer dance moves but whatever, we know how good we really are. 

On Sunday, we had another terrific lunch at The Gage and we walked all around the city after. I finally saw the famous bean, too! While still very cold out, Spring has definitely arrived and it was delightful:
As you might imagine, the weekend completely flew. Each of us felt that crummy pit in our stomach on Sunday afternoon thinking of flying back to reality. I'm just so happy we all made the trip happen, though. These moments and memories made are priceless. Being able to see Suzanne and Jeff's new life in Chicago and be a part of it is very special to me. They are so missed in the Big Apple but I'd be lying if I said I'm not thrilled to have a reason to go back there, tee hee. I already can't wait for the next trip! 

Stuffed Bundles Of Joy

Day two of pasta. Day two of happiness.

Pasta ripiena (stuffed pasta) is one of those things I rarely ever order in restaurants. I completely love all things ravioli, but I'm also quite greedy when it comes to food. Whenever you order something like that in a restaurant, you always get maybe four or five pieces and that just annoys me. It takes a lot more than that to fill me up. Well, now I know exactly why you only get those four or five pieces. It takes so much time to make them! 

There isn't too much of a history base for pasta ripiena, but it's normally always done with an egg dough and there are an infinite amount of shapes used. As I'm quickly learning with so many other things in Italy, the exact same dish that varies from region to region can be called all different names. Yep, way to keep on confusing us Americans, Italy. Example? Ravioli is often called tortelli. Pasta ripiena is rolled thinner than regular noodles due to there being double the amount of dough when cooking with the base and top. Fillings most often involve cheese and/or egg as a binder, but the opportunity for variety is endless, truly. 

We focused on three recipes - ravioli with swiss chard and ricotta, tortellini in brodo (ravioli with meat stuffing) and lasagna di carne (lasagna with meat sauce). In America, you usually find lasagna layered with sauce - sometimes meat, sometimes not - and ricotta. Traditionally, lasagna should be layered with béchamel (besciamella in Italian) sauce instead of cheese which honestly makes such a difference. It's far more rich and weighty but really fantastic. For those who don't know, béchamel is a milk based sauce, thickened with flour and butter, and seasoned with nutmeg and salt. It's used a bunch in Italian cooking which surprised me since I always related it to French cooking. We used our lovely spinach pasta dough from the day before for our lasagna noodles:
I really like this recipe. It wasn't my very favorite, simply because it was a bit too full bodied, but nice all the same. The besciamella really made a big difference and, oddly enough, you get the nutmeg coming through which is a great surprise and combination with the meat. It's that thing that makes people kinda go hmmm as they eat it:
Making the ravioli was tougher than I thought! I messed the first couple of doughs up, because they were too thin and tore, but my third attempt was pretty good:
As mentioned, the filling contained swiss chard that we blanched and chopped fine. It's such a pleasant change from spinach which is normally the go-to vegetable for a ricotta ravioli. 

For the tortellini in brodo, we made these little hat shapes of pasta after stuffing it with a sturdy meat filling made of pork, turkey, veal, prosciutto and mortadella. Major drool. It was so good. My hat shapes, however, were not. I don't think it's a coincidence that I somehow managed to miss snapping a photo of that dish...

I can't say I enjoyed this day as much as others. It just wasn't my thing, I suppose. However, as with so many other things so far, I've learned to really appreciate things as "simple" as stuffed pasta. It is truly an art and I can now see why a good pasta chef is so highly regarded. To create perfection in making shapes out of dough is really a talent and one I don't think I possess. Yet, anyway. We'll see as I keep moving along...

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Time Has Come...

Pasta. The one thing I've waited to make since I first looked into starting this Italian culinary program. I have been excited for so long and the time has coooooome! We've officially begun our introduction to pasta and, while my hips are going to scream at me, my heart is overjoyed. I really do feel like the luckiest person because I consistently get so giddy in the kitchen at school. That definitely makes for a happy Valerie.

Pasta is one of those things that can never, ever get old. There are endless ways to work with it. I'd always viewed it as just a vehicle for whatever amazing sauce or ragu you could put on it but now I feel guilty for not recognizing it as a true star of the show itself. We begin our introduction with fresh pasta which I think everyone loves. Historically speaking, it was unknown for quite some time where pasta actually originated. There are a bunch of theories but it's since been proven that noodles themselves were born in China, yet Italy and the Mediterranean had pasta for ages. It was in ancient Rome where flour and water were mixed together to form the first "pasta" but it's not proven what method of cooking was actually used. Interestingly enough, pasta was definitely present in the Arab world as well.

In Italy, the traditional way of making pasta was to use buckwheat. Each region has their own way of doing it but that was the traditional ingredient used. Pasta fresca, or fresh pasta, was usually only made in the home or in small restaurants. Now, you can get it right in your grocery store! It's very light and delicate so there are only a few ways to serve it without destroying the noodle itself. It also takes just a couple of minutes to cook vs. dried pasta that can take up to ten. The key to cooking pasta as a whole is that the sauce should really stick to the noodles and not slide off. You can achieve that best by cooking pasta in boiling water, as usual, but finishing it in a pan with a touch of pasta water added. The starch in the water helps create a "stickiness" and binds the sauce to the noodle. When working with fresh pasta, the best sauces to use are those with a smooth, light (not meaning in calories but meaning in weight) consistency such as butter, cream or olive oil based sauces. Anything thick or chunky will weigh down fresh pasta and ruin it, essentially.

A basic but delicious recipe that's widely used, and what we worked with for the day, is pasta all'uova or pasta with eggs. It couldn't be easier to make and man, what a gigantic difference it makes in flavor when you cook it properly. As mentioned, each region has their own way of making fresh pasta to this day. In Emilia-Romagna, a region famous for their fresh pasta, they do it with just flour and egg whereas, in Tuscany, they add salt, water and a little olive oil. In our recipe, we used egg, flour, salt and olive oil. All of us had such fun making the dough:
It's like playdough when you start kneading it! Fun for us adults, heehee.

Side note: Always, always cook pasta in a big pot of heavily salted water. The water should taste like the sea. This is the only real way to impart flavor to the noodles themselves outside of their sauce and it's often the most overlooked step. Add the salt when the water begins to boil because doing so beforehand can actually damage your pots due to the salt being corrosive if it sits on the bottom of the pot. Also, adding oil to the water does absolutely nothing. Yep, that age old "trick" you might have learned from your mom is a myth. Who knew?!

"Coloring" agents are often used in fresh pasta, as well. You can do this by adding amazing things like pureed spinach or beet juice or anything, really. We made a fresh spinach dough to use the next day for our lasagna. It was so vibrant and lovely:
We made a traditional ragu di carne (meat sauce) too that was really delicious using ground pork, beef and prosciutto:
Layers of flavors from the veggies and meat are just so rich and delectable. Drool.

Another thing we did was crank out some orecchiette, one of my favorite pasta shapes. This would be our first try at making 'fresh dried' pasta as we let it sit overnight to harden for a dish we'd do later. Um, what a giant pain in the ass these are to make. I have a huge appreciation now for this shape of pasta, seriously. Orecchiette means 'little ears' and that's what the shape resembles. Mine, not so much, but you get the idea:
My thumb actually hurt after working on a bunch of these. Orecchiette is originally from Apulia and usually made with flour that's native to that region. The most common way you find this served is with broccoli rabe in an olive oil sauce.

The final thing we did was to make our first dish with an emulsified butter sauce. We'll be doing this sauce a bunch so hopefully I'll get better at it. It's a tricky thing to do because it's actually made with just butter and some pasta water but you have to finesse it a bit. Otherwise, your sauce will 'break' which means the fat and water will separate, just like oil and water does, instead of emulsify and stay thick. Nobody wants to eat pasta sitting in a pool of fat... I chose to make angel hair in sage butter:
While it was delicious, it seems I'll need a good bit of practice with this emulsification process. I have no problem with that if it means eating this more often.

Yep, it's safe to say that we all had a ton of fun in the kitchen with day one of pasta. Next up? Stuffed pasta. Ravioli, here I come!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Backbone Of Cooking

Once you experience days in the kitchen like I've had recently with my meat and cheese extravaganzas, stock and sauce day just doesn't seem like fun. I mean, how interesting can it really be to cook down veggies or roast bones? Well, I kinda eat my words each day in the kitchen, it seems. Learning the essentials of making stock is honestly the backbone of cooking as a whole. Stock is used in so many things, in any cuisine, and making a good one can make all the difference in your dish being mediocre or outstanding.

Taken from my book, "a stock is a flavored, aromatic liquid used to make soups, sauces, braises and stews and to moisten preparations such as risotto". Without quality ingredients, your stock might as well be water in the end. Cooking at home has given me very slight knowledge of how important stock is and, after tasting the dishes we've made using stock from exceptional ingredients, I don't think I can ever go back to buying it in the store. Aromatics are amongst the most important part of the structure of stock. The ultimate selection of what those aromatics are is often particular to a chef's personality, but it usually always contains carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Herbs, such as parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano or rosemary are often used, as well. Throw in a few peppercorns or whole cloves and you've got a stellar "bouquet" on which to build your stock flavor. All of these ingredients are strained out in the end so it's kind of a fun way for a chef to put his or her own twist or spin on something traditional. Making stock reminds me of just how true it is that cooking really is an art. It's an expression of one's own vision and taste which I find so incredible and exciting. 

We focused on the basics and made chicken, fish, veggie and veal stocks. Each one was totally fascinating and I'm not even kidding. Fondo bruno, or brown stocks such as veal, get their color and name from the most important element, roasted bones. They develop a rich flavor and color as they roast and coating the bones in something like tomato paste only enriches the outcome. These stocks are simmered for a very long time, up to 12 hours or more. I can't even explain how amazing the kitchen smelled as the veal bones were roasting. Check out this graveyard o' bones and veggie skeletons: 
Fondo bianco, or white stocks like fish, chicken or veggie, are a bit less involved. Bones and other aromatics are brought to a boil for anywhere from 20 minutes (as in fish stock) to 2 hours (as in chicken). One thing to note on fumetto di pesce (fish stock) is that you want to use fish bones from very neutral and mild flavored fish like sole or flounder. If you use a fattier fish, like tuna or salmon, the flavor is far too strong and can result in an unfavorable stock. We worked for most of the day on all of these and I really wish I could convey how interesting it was to create something so flavorful from ingredients most people just toss right in the garbage.

The coolest part of the day for me was learning to make a consommé. People, this is a pain in the ass thing to make. I've always seen consommé on menus and wondered what the hoopla was about it. It's expensive and always just seemed like a bowl full of chicken broth to me. I mean, what's exciting about that? Well well well, let me just tell you. Consommé is so far from just a bowl of broth. It's a deeply layered, rich flavored soup that is clarified over and over to create a translucent liquid free from any and all impurities. They can be made from any stock but the most common are made from beef, poultry or game. The process is detailed and delicate, involving mixing a lean protein and vegetable base, to be cooked into the stock thus creating a "raft" that collects impurities as it simmers over time. I can't really get into detail about how you do it, I'll just explain that it's meticulous and incredibly neat. If you're successful, your consommé will come out completely clarified, lovely and full of depth. In all honesty, this is the dish I'm most proud of to date. Yes, I'm serious. It didn't hurt that Chef Guido said it was exquisite:
Yeah, totally just a bowl of broth.

In addition to all the stock work, we made a couple of basic but essential sauces. We did salsa di pomodoro (tomato sauce) and pesto (basil sauce). The fun part of authentic tomato sauce in Italy is that it begins with a soffritto which is a cooked mixture of aromatic herbs and veggies in which a chef can, once again, put their own signature twist on. It's the foundation of so many Italian sauces and most commonly includes carrot, onion and celery, once again. With pesto, it's native to Genoa (on the Ligurian Sea) and comes from the word 'pestare' which means to crush or beat. I've only ever made pesto in the food processor and guess what? It's almost shameful to do so! Originally, pesto was made in a mortar and pestle in order to crush everything together while leaving the basil intact enough to have a strong presence and flavor. Pesto is one of my very favorite things on earth and I swear to you, I could eat it in or on anything. Mine turned out really great but, let's get serious, it's a tough thing to screw up:

On a side note, we also fried up our stuffed olives from the other day:
They were just ok, to be honest. The filling is pretty involved, made of chicken, pork butt, beef chuck and even chicken livers, yet all of the flavor got completely lost in my opinion. They just tasted like crunchy, oily green olives. Boooo!

I got a whole lot out of this day in the kitchen and I'm glad for that. I'm learning ever so slowly but surely just how incredible the world of cooking really is. It far exceeds anything I've known so far and continues to amaze me. The reason behind my passion is constantly confirmed in the most unexpected ways and for that I'm so grateful and happy.

Vegetarian? Nope, Not Me!

Let me say outta the gate that I fully respect any view and standpoint people have on food. I won't push my thoughts or opinions on you anymore than I would do so with something like religion. Yes, I have my strong opinions but, should you choose to be a vegetarian or anything of the like, I won't tell you you're wrong. I'll just tell you I'm sad that I can't share the gloriousness that is meat with you. I get a lot of practice with keeping certain thoughts to myself as my sweet Bryan is, in fact, a vegetarian. Did I just hear people sigh? I thought so. I did too when he told me. He's just lucky I love veggies almost as much so it's not a deal breaker, whew.

Going into meat antipasti day at school was so exciting for me. While I love meat, I actually know very little about it and what differentiates certain cuts from each other. In Italian cuisine, salumi, a general word for cured meats, is highly regarded and loved. Back in the old days, meat was a luxury and expense that most people couldn't afford. I referenced that briefly when I was talking about making caponata but we went into a little more detail with it as we learned about the different salumi that's so available these days. The most common categories of salumi are either whole cuts or insaccati meaning something encased or emulsified. Things like prosciutto, speck or pancetta that are cured in salt and aged fall into the whole cuts category and meats that are ground like salame and mortadella fall into the insaccati category. An important factor to note also is that salumi is rarely smoked in Italy. Speck is found in northern Italy which is one of the few smoked ham products available. In fact, a great deal of meat products are eaten raw like some salame and sausage. Each region cures things differently but, now that we have technology and refrigeration, there isn't as wide a need as there used to be to cure things so completely.

Just like on cheese day, we had the most amazing spread of salumi that we tasted and were lectured on in between finishing our recipes. It was a pretty darn awesome day to be in our kitchen even if we all felt like we had to be rolled outta there. Check it out:
If you start at the top, you'll see the two kinds of lardo (straight fat, smoked and unsmoked) we tried and then you move down into the different prosciutto, bresaola (a raw, salted and aged beef), mortadella and salame. Each cut was fabulous and so different. I've had most all of them before and couldn't appreciate them the way I do now. Mortadella continues to be one of my favorites, though. It's a cooked salami that is actually ground fine (ew, I hate knowing that actually) and mixed with at least 15% fat. Often times, pistachios are added in as well. It's produced in many regions of Italy and it's sort of like a glorified bologna. That kinda trivializes it because, in no way, is it anything like the nasty, packaged Oscar Mayer stuff so don't equate the two. 

On top of this fabulous spread, we did complete our recipes as well so it was a big eating day for us. I was excited because one of our recipes was involtini di cavolo, stuffed cabbage, and I've always wanted to make it! It's a delicious dish made with a meat and fresh herb stuffing that's rolled in cabbage and baked in homemade tomato sauce. It was a lot more involved than I thought but hey, that's what we're learning is the reason why some Italian food is so freaking delicious. There's a lot of love and care that goes into making what most think is "such a simple recipe". I hesitate to share this photo with you because it really isn't the most attractive dish. It's so yummy though so here you go:
We also made a fabulous chicken salad in a lemon vinaigrette that was to die for and we prepped the olive all'ascolana which are stuffed olives. The biggest highlight for me was actually our carpaccio dish which is raw beef (pounded super thin) salad. We did it Cipriani style which is a method that uses a fresh, homemade mayonnaise and mushrooms, both completely highlighting the beef. It was my first time making mayonnaise and it turned out really great. The arugula is dressed in simple lemon juice and olive oil and served on top of the beef, offering an amazing, fresh contrast to the meat. I've loved carpaccio before and I do even more now:
It was a terrific, informative day in the kitchen and I so enjoyed all of it! All thoughts of possibly staying away from meat were crushed and thwarted though, that's for sure. As if I really entertained those thoughts seriously...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Another Year Older

Ok, two things: 1) My trip to Chicago flew by in a blink and 2) Bryan's trip to New York flew by in a blink, too. UGH to both! I'll never understand how the hours in a day can pass so quickly sometimes. Time spent with people you love is honestly priceless and I wish I could hold on to certain moments and not let them go. Sigh...

I'm obviously quite behind on my posts so I thought I'd sneak in a quick one about my birthday before jumping back into school. This year was a little different for me in terms of my birthday. Most everyone who knows me is aware of how much I love celebrating birthdays. You won't find me being a scrooge about it, even with each year I age, simply because being alive and celebrating that is a gift and an honor. I don't like hearing people say they hate their birthday. It makes me sad. All of that said, I'm normally ready to celebrate mine for a month (at least!) but it was the last thing on my mind this year. I've just been too swamped to focus on it so you can understand how happy I was to have my friends and Allison plan a very fun, low key weekend for me.

The day before my actual birthday, a group of us headed over to Brooklyn Brewery to enjoy a laid back afternoon together. All I wanted this year was to spend time with my dear friends and to be away from annoying crowds or riffraff. We hung out for the day at the brewery and it was perfect! Shameer definitely didn't disappoint in getting my annual surprise cake, either. He's done that for both Allison and I for a number of years and it's just the sweetest, most awesome gesture. I look forward to it, actually! Behold, the perfect candle, too:
When we wrapped up there, we walked over to Spritzenhaus which I just love. We'd gone for the first time last summer after roaming around Smorgasburg and I thought it was such an awesome place. Lemme tell you, it still is! We drank awesome beers and laughed quite a bit as we all tend to do together. Allison even drank cider! I love any chance to steer Allison into the world of beer so, if that means starting with cider, so be it. We had a really fun afternoon overall:
 Yep, beer in a wine glass. It's how I roll:
This makes me happy:
The next day, my actual birthday, Allison and Camille had put together a lovely brunch for me that was delicious. They did lightened up versions of bacon, egg and cheese biscuits which are one of my favorite things, ever. Allison made homemade biscuits but then did egg whites, turkey bacon, a touch of cheese and a really nice green salad:
It was fantastic! I mean, the candle in the biscuit couldn't be more appropriate for me. The three of us had a great time together and I was thankful for such a nice weekend with the people I love so much. Though this year's shenanigans and celebration was much more tame than past years, it was no less wonderful. Getting older for me has been a sincere joy and that's something in itself to be thankful for. Another year older, another year happier. I'm very blessed. :)

PS - Happy Easter to all! What an amazing, important, special day this is. I praise and thank god for what it means and hope the day was wonderful for each of you.