Sunday, July 11, 2010

Heavenliness - Val d'Aosta, the Alps!

 If you have never been to the Italian side of the Alps, which means taking in the fabulous Val d'Aosta, you have not lived! Culturally Aosta is loaded with ancient history from BC to the beautiful Roman Amphitheater ruins to the Alpine culture and modern day. Everywhere you gaze there are mountains framing your views, the town piazza is crowned with tall glaciers in the background and you can have it all while sipping caffe in the square. I love Val d'Aosta


The gastronomic pleasures of this area begin with the infamous Fontina DOP. This is the queen of the alpine meadows, a cheese made from raw milk, fragrant and alive. To be labeled or considered Fontina DOP, it must be made only from cows of the Valdostana breed that forage on local grasses and meadows. This is the cheese that gave birth, to la fonduta (fondue). It was from this awesome fonduta, that was transformed into the other versions of fondue in Switzerland. If you want to savor the original, this is where you need to be! Do not forget to try Fromadzo DOP too, another very special cheese of the area, mix of goat and cow's milk. 

This area is also ultra famous for the Lard d'Arnad DOP and the Vallée d'Aoste Jambon de Bosses DOP. The prosciuto was an ancient gift for bishops and archbishops, produced in the city of Saint Rhemy-en-Bosses since the 14th century. The frigid stream of air that would come down to the valleys bordering with Switzerland and the long winter cold coupled with the manual labor of man, helped transform these raw prosciutti into authentic one-of-a-kind pieces. They are aged 12, 18 and 24 months and if you can find this ham, you must try it. 

The lard of Arnad is truly the jewel of the mountain peasant's world. Today it is found in the area for sale where previously, it was very difficult to find because it was the source of substenance during those long harsh and cold winter months. As they say, living in the mountains is about 9 months of frigid cold and 3 months of just cold. So be sure to try ultra thin slices of this served on warm crusty pieces of bread; this is something you will come back for time and again. 

A few of the brands assuring you of quality and origin are Saveurs du Val D'Aoste as well as  Alpenzu. Alpenzu is another group of the Val d'Aosta guaranteeing the origin of the products sold. While at the hotel, we were lucky to taste chestnuts in honey as part of an appetizer and while shopping we stumbled on le tegole, famous cookies of the area, another must-try!  

While traveling make sure you do the castles of the region, they are fantastic!    

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Romantik Hotels - European Class

If you have not heard of this group of hotels, then you are in for a real surprise. This franchise has hotels all over Europe specializing in romantic getaways, spas, wonderful food and dinning as well as, stunning surroundings. I suggest ordering their catalog so you can see for yourself the smorgasbord of choices! If it is possible, at least for this creature, I will try to organize my business trips around staying in one of these hotels. You definitely get value for your money and are in lovely historical environments always family owned and operated so there is a nice sense of friendliness, lacking in the large hotels.Romantik

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh WOW, Val d'Aosta - Paradise Unveiled!

Just got back from a quick trip to the Val d'Aosta, and man do I have some great information for you! How can anyone not be amazed at those Alps, the Roman history of Aosta itself and the ancient door/arch to the city built 25 BC...
So hold on to your knickers because I have lots to share.  :-)
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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Etruscan pasta - Simple and Honest Cooking!

This has been the month of chocolate mousse for some reason of course I am super cheating because I have found a 2 minute package from Lindt! These are amazing and come in two if not three flavors...cannot remember (brain fart again). All you add is milk and whip (no, not me even though I have been very remiss lately with my recipes and cooking).:-)

As the hot season approaches, the desire for fresh and cool is right up there with finding a way to pay off all debt in one's life ;-) and last week I tried out an old Etruscan recipe and had to wing it.  This is not a cold pasta sauce but it is SUPER simple. All you need is fresh mint, walnuts, garlic, olive oil and the real thing, parmigiano reggiano or grana padana.

For all you seasoned cooks, you just have to guess on the portions. I used quantities I would use for two people making garlic, parsley and oil pasta.

Choose a long pasta, linguini, spaghettini, pici, spaghetti, etc.

For two:
15 - 20 leaves of fresh mint approx.
2-4 cloves garlic depending on tastes
ultra finely chopped walnuts about (4 whole ones)
olive oil extra V, enough to make a sauce to cover the pasta.

Crush the garlic into the oil and begin to saute very slowly.  Finely chop the mint and add to oil mixture and saute about one minute on very low heat take off the heat.

Cook the pasta in salted water, (must use some salt in the cooking otherwise pasta is just flavorless with the sauces).  When al dente, drain and quickly toss into the pan of garlic, oil and mint that you will have deftly put back on the fire just seconds before draining the pasta. Saute high for 2 minutes or less tossing the walnuts into the sautee mix.

Serve in warm bowls and garnish with the parmigiano. Serve with a fabulous frizzy white summer wine from the Veneto region or even a Prosecco would do well with this. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Texas Roadhouse!

I just happened upon this restaurant, Texas Roadhouse while in New England and thought I had discovered the mother lode. What a fun place, where one can eat peanuts and just toss the remnants onto the floor and listen to country kicking music and yell "ye ha" every hour! If you go, you must try the rattlesnake bites, which are out of this world; not even chili poppers, so popular in So. Cal. come close to these! The steaks were cooked to perfection, the fresh hot bread is really something else (while trying to cut down on bread) served with cinnamon butter as well as, the daily assortment of awesome fresh veggies.

So for a fanatic against chains...I have to admit, this one has got me changed along with RiRa (Irish pub and grill -FAbULOuS food and cocktails)! This is one amazing restaurant and bar serving perfect Irish fare (try the Reuben with their homemade corned beef), great hand cut fries and since I was in New England, had to try their clam chowder finding it to be just perfect (as well as their potato leek soup). Most of these pubs have taken over old historic buildings and while maintaining the decor as it was when it was either a bank (or something else), they have transformed these into working bars and restaurants while preserving a part of our past, fantastic!

One last recommendation before I have to run out the door here, is Jumping Jays Fish Cafe! This is located downtown Portsmouth, NH and was the best meal I had in the 3 week vacation. The fish was unbelievable; ultra fresh, prepared with a choice of sauces and each one done to perfection. The martinis were good, the bread superb and the caesar salad was (finally) the way it should be, just olive oil, lemon, garlic, anchovy and parmigiano (nothing saucy or over dressed)! Mind you to eat here on a Friday or Saturday, you MUST make a reservation way in advance otherwise forget it. Even during the week you should make a reservation especially during the tourist season.

Portsmouth offers wonderful coffee houses, fabulous bakery items and oodles of Italian restaurants as well as the classic pub, brewery and chowder houses. The one thing I did not do with my other half was go to a great martini bar  (I was told by an insider it has the best).  The Red Door Martini Bar and martinis are not all they serve, check out their music line up, damn wish we had found out this little tip earlier, before we had to leave (guess I have a good excuse to go back)!  ;-)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Eye Opener of a Vacation

I am now convinced after spending time in New England, variations on a theme regarding clams, lobster, cod and such are really hard to find. After three weeks of the same type of menus, I never thought I would say this, I almost broke down and went to an Italian restaurant in the US (OMG)!  Nonetheless, the freshness of the shrimp, the three sizes available for clams, the lobster and great tasting fresh cod seemed to take away the boredom of the choice. I love New England but to eat some of their traditional food means you really have to exercise; those chowders are not low fat (but wow, are they delicious)! 

New England strives to be eco-friendly, green and eco-correct but I found that to be just a "tad" hypocritical when everyone drives SUVs! America has GOT to get a grip on it's over sized engines in these over sized vehicles to drive around in town. Just because it snows does not mean one must have an SUV unless you live in an area where the road to your own home is long and off the main road then yes, most of the trucks have their own snow blade attached to the front. Again, the cost of pushing that heavy blade added into the size of the truck = how much gas consumed? Salting the roads is bad for the rivers and streams and such because it is not just pure salt flowing in when the melts arrive. Snow plows paid for by the cities are for the main roads only so, what is a person to do?  

Well I have one suggestion, downsize the cars and engines without sacrificing power (as done in Europe for decades) and still have a four wheel drive vehicle able to pull a trailer, or pack your kayak on top.  Check out these photos of the Fiat Panda 4x4 and the ultimate dream of making the Fiat 500 into an SUV ...

For most of us who drive from the house to town for marketing and errands, why not downsize to the revamped Fiat 500? Remember this the old one?  Check out the new one and talk about gas savings!

After driving around Vermont and seening how beautiful that state was and how nice to see all the eco-correctness there as well and fierce pride in serving Vermont-made products and using 7th Generation products in hotels, I was severely disappointed to see again, the massive number of SUVs, trucks and, the incredible amount of trash at rest stops, in town (Burlington), cigarette butts all over and the number of people who smoked. Wow, what a dichotomy.  
So as we approach another year of crisis proportions for jobs, taxes and less money to buy gas...I think it would be a good time for America to really wake up and not just talk the talk but walk it. We have an amazing country and a great people but we really need to downsize our standard of living for the good of all.  Take a few lessons from Europe and its small cars and truck/vans. :-)

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Back from Vacation!

Whew, just got back from a long vacation and much needed at that. Found lots of things to share so stay tuned and not all of it about cooking. ;-)
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Still on Eggplant...Favorite Marinated Eggplant!

Melanzane Marinate

2 long eggplant
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
White wine vinegar
Whole black peppercorns
Olive oil for frying

Wash and dry the eggplant, cut off the ends and cut lengthwise throwing away the first lengthwise piece (all skin) and make these about 4mm in thickness. Do not skin the eggplant.
Fry in oil (do not flour the slices) and dry them on oil absorbing paper.  Once they are cold, place in a nice terrina and add the garlic cloves cut in half, the bay leaves and the peppercorns, lightly salt and cover it all with the white wine vinegar. Let rest for one night before serving. These are great as an antipasto or to accompany mixed boiled meats.  These should be consumed 3-4 days post preparation.

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Parma for Eggplant Parmigiana! (No Cheese)

Thinking about a friend who the other day decided to make eggplant parmigiana, I had to go to my "bible" cookbook Emiliana and Romagnola wanting to set it straight once and for all the difference between these dishes. 
First off, the ultra famous eggplant parmigiana served in most restaurants in the US and in cookbooks as well, is actually what is called "Parmigiana di melanzane" vs what is made in Emilia Romagna called, "Melanzane alla parmigiana." The former is from Campania (Naples province) and uses heavy amounts of mozzarella. 
Another myth to be exposed is the one when preparing eggplant, was to cover the raw slices with salt. This was supposed to force the vegetable to purge the bitter water contained within. Maybe centuries ago this plant was very bitter but today the varieties we have are far from bitter and the salting actually ruins the delicate flavor of the eggplant and is harmful so, NEVER, ever salt eggplant before use.  :-)

My favorite recipe for Melanzane all parmigiana (Emiliana recipe) is the following:
2 medium eggplant
50 gram prosciutto crudo - thick slice about 1/4 inch
1 small onion
300 gr peeled tomatoes 
50 gram butter
olive oil
salt pepper
Wash and dry the eggplant, but the ends off and slice into rounds.
The slices should be about 4-5 mm in thickness.
Flour them well and fry in olive oil, dry on oil absorbing paper.
In a casserole dish, melt the butter (may substitute olive oil here is desired) together with the super finely SLICED onion. When the onion is nice and transparent, add the prosciutto cut into little cubes. Sautee for two minutes and add the tomatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste and then add the eggplant slices.
Cook over a slow flame, covered for approximately fifteen minutes.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bet you didn't know...

Did you know Italy contains 70% of the world's art? Think about that for a second, a country so small physically is so crammed full of art, monuments, churches, artifacts, tombs and on and on!! It is just amazing to me the whole concept, thinking about the number of people who passed through the country leaving such an imprint and patrimony for the rest of the world to come. No wonder Italy is so short on living space. ;-)

Meucci was the father of the telephone, not Mr. Bell; in fact Bell was well known for pirating his inventions. Marconi was the father of the radio and I bet you did not know the world's first freeway, created conceptually and physically constructed was here is this little land of dreamers and creators. Today the Italian autostrada is one of the best out there that is, if you do not judge it for the curves. With such a lack of space to build freeways, and the fact people will not sell land, the roads have to curve around history and stubbornness, so remember this when you are screaming down the road and have to back off by 50 mph to make a curve and stay alive. They have the best and world's only draining asphalt so when it rains, you can see the road; it is truly amazing (and still drive fast).

Now a quick tip on how to choose Gorgonzola, make sure the mold is not uniformly distributed. You should look for inoculation lines as well as where made. Gorgonzola originated in a small town close to Milan called, obviously, Gorgonzola. Today most of it is produced in the province of Novara and regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.  Try a risotto with Gorgonzola!