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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Healdsburg, California

In Travel, Wine on October 13, 2011 at 9:12 am

We had a wonderful time in California. Yes, the flights were long, and at times challenging. But we arrived safely and had a great time with our friends in Sonoma. We rented a house in Healdsburg and thoroughly enjoyed the town and nearby wineries.

The fam enjoying the beautiful gardens at Ferrari Carano.

The babe sporting her new Healdsburg tee.

We had some lovely wine at Bella. This winery is a perfect spot for a bottle of wine and a picnic.

We also visited Preston, Lambert Bridge and Copain while we were in town. Copain had my favorite wines, but Lambert Bridge was probably my favorite winery. They had really nice wines and a nice garden/picnic area. Plus they had two wine dogs – a yellow lab and a giant St. Bernard. I am a sucker for a winery with dogs.

Our food experiences were also really great. Nice dinners out were tough with all the kids (6 under 4 years old), but the ladies had a wonderful night at the Dry Creek Kitchen. We all ordered the tasting menu, and there was a sweet white corn soup that I just loved. Everything else was delicious too. Oh, and I just love it when a restaurant gives you a little gift at the end of the meal. Our parting gift was a little jar of pinot noir jam. So cute!

My favorite lunch was from the Dry Creek General Store. I had a BLTA. The “A” is for avocado.

I love a good general store.

I learned a few things about traveling with kids during this trip:

1. It’s worth it.

2. Be flexible.

3. 4 nights is plenty.

I’m off to Alabama tomorrow to visit family and to go to the Auburn game. The babe is racking up frequent flyer miles!

Chocolate Salami

In Travel on September 15, 2010 at 9:25 am

Do you guys remember the trip we took earlier this summer? Italy and France? It seems so long ago now. Time flies, that’s for sure.

When we were in Italy, I was introduced to a local dessert called “Chocolate Salami”. Chocolate salami is made of delicious chocolate and biscotti. Basically, Italian cooks break up the biscotti pieces and put it in melted chocolate. Then they form a log and slice it into pieces. It’s called “chocolate salami” because it looks strangely similar to salami.

I had this chocolate salami at a small restaurant in a remote village in Piedmont, Italy. It was absolute heaven.

I had never seen chocolate salami offered in the United States until now. I read about Cacao Atlanta in the September issue of Food & Wine and chocolate salami is one of their specialties. I placed an order and had it shipped to NYC so I could check it out.

My package came with this handwritten note (nice touch) and a little caramel candy.

This is Cacao Atlanta's chocolate salami.

While not exactly like the chocolate salami in Italy, this was certainly a good treat. I do think it would have been better if I had been able to purchase it in the store and then eat it on the same day. It was packaged well, but I had it shipped to a PO Box, and it sat there for a few days before I was able to pick it up. Will one of you who lives in Atlanta please go by Cacao Atlanta and give me a report? I’d love to know if it’s as cute in real life as it is in my imagination!

The Little Things

In Just Good Food, Travel on June 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Don’t you just love it when you check into a hotel and there is a little gift for you in your room? Nothing elaborate, just a simple something to say “welcome”. A chilled bottle of Perrier, a basket of apples, freshly cut flowers, a chocolate on your pillow. I believe that small gestures like this can turn an ordinary experience into an extraordinary one. Here are some of “the little things” that stood out during our trip.

Fresh Cherries at La Mirande in Avignon.

Olives with herbs at Cafe de Paris in Monaco.

An assortment of French macaroons at Villa Gallici in Aix. These were heaven.

Rasberry tart served with tea at Chateau de la Messardiere in St. Tropez.

We’re all  busy with work, family, obligations, commitments. It’s easy to get lost in it all. This weekend, I hope you’ll sit back, relax (even for 10 minutes)  and eat or drink something that makes you happy! I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip. Next week I’ll be back in the kitchen and blogging about baking and cooking. As a matter of fact, I just made some sick brownies that I can’t wait to tell you about. Have a great weekend everyone!

Cooking in Aix En Provence

In Just Good Food, Travel on June 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Aix is a cool town in Southern France. It’s home to a university and filled with college kids, quaint restaurants, pizzerias, and art galleries. We had great food in Aix, but one meal really stood out because we made it ourselves at Le Passage. Le Passage is a large restaurant that also has a cooking school. Before we started cooking, Dan and I went to the open air market with Yannick (our chef/instructor) and selected our produce.

It was Yannick's birthday, and everyone at the market kept hugging him!

We purchased a few zucchini blossoms (yellow flowers above) for our starter.

We bought several tomatoes. They had a million varieties.

In addition to the blossoms and tomatoes, we also chose red peppers, fresh mint, fava beans, and asparagus. We also purchased some fresh goat cheese and sea bream (mild, white fish).

For our starter we prepared zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. First, we chopped up the mint and mixed it with goat cheese. Then we blanched each blossom. Next we stuffed the blossoms with the goat cheese mixture and garnished it with sliced radish and chopped tomatoes seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. It was very simple to prepare and so delicious!

This is so pretty and can easily be done at home. The goat cheese and mint mixture is fantastic.

For the main course, we had sea bream with asparagus and fava beans. I had never before fileted a fish or cooked fava beans. Both were easy. Our lunch was amazing…simple, fresh, tasty!

The red sauce on the plate is basically a pureed red pepper - it is such a colorful addition and easy to do.

My favorite part of this class was definitely learning how to filet a fish. I’ve always been intimidated by whole fish. I actually think I may try to filet one at home. That’s the great thing about cooking classes…confidence in the kitchen!

We did not get a printed recipe after our class, but if you’re interested, please comment and I’ll send you step by step instructions.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about White Truffles!

In Miscellaneous, Travel on June 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Sadly, this is not a white truffle. Not even close.

Our guide told me the name of the above species of mushroom, but I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the English slang translation: “Wolf Fart”. No joke. He said this mushroom got the name from the unpleasant odor and slight explosion that happens when you handle the mushroom. Thankfully I did not pick up the mushroom before I received this information.

Piemonte is known for white truffles. The season begins in September and reaches its peak mid to late November. The White Truffle Festival is held in Alba each fall, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful event to attend.

Truffles grow under the ground and are not visible to the eye. Therefore, dogs are trained to find truffles. There is a “University” for dogs in Alba where they undergo months of training before actually hunting truffles. Small dogs are better than big dogs because it’s very important to create only a small hole where the truffle lives. If the dog digs a large hole, there is a risk that the ecosystem which creates the perfect growing environment will be destroyed (and thus ruin the spot for future truffles).

Hmmmm...perhaps Chance should spend some time at the University.

Truffle hunting is done at night for two reasons:

1. The dog has less distractions at night (fewer noises, less people around, etc.)
2. You must keep your truffle spot secret. Spots are “first come first serve” so people are pretty secretive about their locations. Truffles grow in the same spot each year, so this is particularly important.

Truffle hunting is a lot like fishing. It’s as much about skill and location as it is about luck and legend. Our guide told us that old men sit around and compare truffle stories from years past. Much like fishing stories, each year the size of the truffle gets larger and larger.

I would love to come back to Piemonte during truffle season. Sadly, white truffles do not have a shelf life. For the best flavor they need to be used within one week of being found. It is not recommended to freeze them or dry them. People from this area laugh at the idea of truffle oil because it is so inferior to the real thing. So, unfortunately, we did not get to have any truffles during our trip (good reason to come back though).

Truffles are priced by weight. The price is approximately 4.5 Euros per gram which translates to about $2,000 per pound. The price varies per season – if it’s been a particularly dry year, the cost goes up. When you are at a restaurant and order shaved truffle on your pasta, they weigh the truffle before they shave it and then after they shave it so you know exactly how much you’re in for. If you haven’t already lost interest, read this news story about the mushroom below.

Hong Kong Tycoon (aka crazy man) Pays $160,406 for Italian Truffle. Seriously.

If you happen to run into a truffle in your backyard, call me!! Here is a recipe for a simple pasta with Parmesan cheese and shaved truffles. I want to make this one day. Must win the lotto first!

Barolo. Barbaresco. Nebbiolo. Oh My!

In Travel, Wine on June 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

We spent 2 days in Piemonte touring wineries. I learned so much about the business (and art, really) of farming grapes and winemaking. Plus we met some pretty neat characters along the way. It was a great experience.

It's hard to see in this photo, but the Alps are in the background.

Here are a few interesting tidbits:

1. Barolo and Barbaresco are made from the Nebbiolo grape. If you had to rate these wines from best to least best, it would go, Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo. The best crus are reserved for Barolo. The worst crus are for Nebbiolo. That is not to say that Nebbiolo wines aren’t worth buying – they are! Nebbiolos are a great everyday drinking wine. We found our favorite to be from a winery called “Vajra”.

Francesa (grand daughter of the owner) gave us a tour and assisted with our tasting. At each of the wineries we toured, a family member was our host.

2. To enjoy Barolo, you must be patient. A Barolo must age for 3 years before it can even leave the winery. It should really age for an additional 5-7 years before being consumed. If you see a young Barolo on a wine list (say 2005 or more recent), I would skip it. It’s not ready yet. Personally, we don’t drink much Barolo at home. They are awesome wines, but expensive. Save Barolo for a special occasion. Drink a Barbera on semi-special occasions. Just an fyi…Barbera is not made from nebbiolo grapes…it’s made from the Barbera grape (hence the name). Drink Nebbiolo anytime, no occasion needed.

This is a great Barbera from Roberto Voerzio. The wines coming out of this farm are amazing. Definitely seek some of this "juice" out!

3. The grape vines in Piemonte are never watered. It is not allowed by Italian wine laws. I thought the reason might be water conservation or the prevention of pests. I was wrong. The reason is to control the yield. If everyone watered their vines, the vines would produce more grapes but of lesser quality. So we would have a lot more wine from Piemonte but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Having a low yield is one of the most important things in winemaking.

4. Piemonte wines are typically never blended. Meaning the wines will be 100 percent of one grape. If you see a Piemonte blend on a menu or in a shop…I’d be suspicious. This is in complete contrast to wines made in the rest of Italy and most of France.

5. There are not any great white wines coming out of Piemonte right now. If you see a Piemonte white, I’d skip it. The reds are better.

6. We were surprised at the inexpensive wine prices in this region. The average cost of the wines we tasted was $35. There were some great wines for 15 Euros and under! The Nebbiolos were a great value. So why are Italian wines sold in the U.S. so expensive? The winemaker has to sell through a distributor. The distributor then marks up the price and sells it to retail stores or restaurants. So, by the time you see a wine on a menu or at a wine sh0p, the price has been marked up 3 to 4 times what it is sold for in Europe. Such a pity.

This is the perfect everyday wine! If you can find a good Nebbiolo that isn't expensive, you are set!

You’ve probably seen wines from Ceretto and Gaja on wine lists. They are certainly the most well-known winemakers in Piemonte. We couldn’t tour either because Ceretto was closed and Gaja doesn’t allow guests at all. Certainly drink wine from these producers, but also check out some of the smaller guys. Here is our list of wines to try:

  • Anything and everything from Roberto Voerzio
  • 2007 Barbera d’Asti from Marchesi di Gresy
  • Vajra Nebbiolo (any recent year)
  • Anything and everything from Fratelli Cigliuti (we had an awesome tasting here – great family!)

Cheers!

Piemonte, Italy

In Just Good Food, Travel on June 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I’m back! We had an awesome vacation. Truly amazing in every possible way! And I am more inspired than ever to make great food. I have so much new blog material – I don’t know where to start! The first destination of our trip was Piemonte (which translates to “Piedmont” in English). We spent three wonderful nights in Santo Stefano Belbo – a quiet, little town in Northern Italy. And we ate well….

OMG, the pasta here is yellow! Really yellow!

In Piemonte, they use a higher ratio of egg yolk to flour which makes the pasta a beautiful bright gold color. It is so delicious that it is not necessary to overload it with sauces. The sauces here are very simple and used sparingly. There are 2 typical ways to serve pasta here. The first is a “Tajarin” – a super thin tagliatelli with either ragu, sage and butter, or olive oil and finely diced mushrooms. Speaking of mushrooms, there will be an entire post about truffles! I asked every person with whom I could communicate about making the pasta. I have a rough recipe, and I’m definitely going to give it a shot at home.

The second way they serve pasta is called “Agnioletti” – this is basically ravioli. It can be filled with meat (we saw rabbit, veal and pork and combinations of them all) or vegetables. The ravioli is tossed with either ragu or sage and butter. The portions of pasta are appetizer size (this is the first course of the meal). It’s about one cup of pasta and probably 1/8 cup of sauce. I was feeling guilty about all the carbs, but I just went with it. Sometimes you have to take one for the team. I am, after all, Italian now.

Here it is! Doesn't it look delicious?

Veal is definitely the most popular meat in this region. The meat comes from cows who live in the foothills of the Alps. They graze on natural grass and are never treated with any kind of antibiotics or chemicals. They serve veal in a variety of ways here, but our favorite by far was raw. I know some of you probably just gagged, but have an open mind…veal crudo (carne cruda) is just amazing. The flavor is delicate and rich and salty all at the same time. The ground veal is seasoned with salt and pepper and a drop of lemon juice. It’s served with a little bit of olive oil and that’s it.

Veal crudo. Try it. I wouldn't steer you wrong.

Hazelnuts – Hazelnuts are the second most farmed item in Piemonte (grapes being the first). Ferrero Rocher is based here, and they only use local hazelnuts for their chocolates. We saw a lot of hazelnut flavored food. My favorite was hazelnut gelato. There was also this amazing hazelnut cake/bread served at breakfast. I wish I thought to put some of that in my suitcase!

Hazelnuts are great just raw too.

All of our meals in Piemonte were delicious. If you’re interested in particular names and locations, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to share! Lastly, in an effort to not look like an obnoxious American tourist, I did not take my camera to every dinner. So in full disclosure, I did not take the photos in this post. I tried to photograph our food as much as possible while we were traveling, but it’s hard to be discreet and get a good shot. It’s much easier to steal one from the internet. I hope you don’t mind. The beautiful pasta photo came from www.theartichokeblog.com. The ravioli photo from www.piemonte-wine-tours.com. The veal www.miguelvecin.com. And lastly the hazelnuts: www.commons.wikimedia.org.

Bon Apetito!

Bon Voyage!

In Travel on May 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I am leaving tomorrow for a ridiculous two week vacation. My husband’s company requires him to take one consecutive two week vacation annually. It’s a protective measure by the bank to ensure that their employees are not up to any shady behavior. We are both super excited because neither of us have had a full two weeks of vacation. Ever. Summer break in college doesn’t count because that wasn’t really work.

On Saturday we fly to Nice, France. We are renting a car there and driving to a little village named “Langhe.” Langhe is near Alba in Italy. This region is known for two things: red wine and truffles. Seriously? That might be my version of heaven.

This is a rare white truffle that only grows in the hills of Langhe. I'm totally going to find one.

After our stay there, we drive to St. Tropez, France for a few relaxing beach days in the French Riviera. I’ve read that the Cote d’Azur receives 300+ days of sunshine per year. I can’t wait to hang out at the beach and people watch. My eyes will be peeled for celebrity sightings!

I think I see Catherine Zeta-Jones!

From St. Tropez we travel to Provence. We will be staying two nights each in Avignon and Aix. We will be sightseeing, touring wineries and even cooking. That’s right; we are both doing a market tour and cooking class in Aix. So exciting!!!

Our cooking class starts with a trip to the market to select our produce, meats and freshly baked bread. I get chill bumps just thinking about it.

For our last night, we are meeting friends from London in Monaco. Monaco is known for formal, old-school casinos and beautiful yachts. Hopefully we will not get thrown out.

I have been fretting for weeks over what to wear in Monaco. A jacket and tie are required for men in the casino, so it's fancy!

I have been cooking and baking my derriere off for the last 2 weeks to have enough blog posts during my time off. There are lots of good things coming up, so please keep reading!

I will definitely post highlights from our trip when we get home. Have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend. Please send me photos of your Memorial Day BBQ, and I’ll post those one day. And by all means, share any of your great rib recipes!

Super Sailing!

In Travel on May 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm

What a fantastic trip! I think this photo sums it up pretty well.

This should be my life motto!

The British Virgin Islands are just spectacular. We sailed for seven days from Tortola to Virgin Gorda to Anegada to Jost Van Dyke and back. We hit some smaller islands too. It was so much fun to sail – the vistas are so beautiful. The water is the perfect shade of blue-green, and beaches are white sand. I highly recommend this trip! Get a crew together and make it happen.

There were many highlights on this trip, but I promised my fellow mates that I would only mention the culinary ones:

  • By far the best meal was at The Last Resort. This is an upscale restaurant (by island standards) in Trellis Bay. They had a live  band that was really fun. We danced and made a full spectacle of ourselves. The dinghy ride back to the boat was especially eventful that night. There were some acrobatic jumps onto the dinghy. Some more graceful than others.

Great restaurant in Trellis Bay.

  • The most popular island cocktail is the “Pain Killer“. It’s a lethal concoction of dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and cream of coconut. It is served on the rocks with  a bit of freshly ground nutmeg on top.  This happy hour special at the Cooper Island Beach Club got us into some trouble.

Two for one means twice the fun!

  • The second most popular island cocktail is the BBC (Bailey’s Banana Coloda). Put it in the blender with some ice – fantastic! Our captain introduced these to us on the first day and we were hooked. We didn’t have banana liqueur, we just used one whole banana per batch.
  • Anegada is known for spiny lobsters. We did a lobster dinner at The Anegada Reef Hotel. The lobsters were cooked on a grill and they were delicious!

You must do a lobster dinner in Anegada.

  • You really shouldn’t visit Anegada without going to Loblolly Beach. It’s a beautiful, remote beach with great snorkeling. Big Bamboo is a little beach bar and restaurant there. I will not list all of the things I had to drink…but I did have conch fritters here that were the best I’ve had.

Spectacular beach at Anegada.

  • The Soggy Dollar – this was definitely our favorite beach bar. We had numerous cocktails and enjoyed our last day of vacation here. Meeting a local captain, “Johnny Malibu” was especially fun.

I was sad to leave my friends and the BVIs, but it’s nice to be on land and to see my husband! I’ll be cooking and blogging again tomorrow. My focus will be on healthy foods for a while…back to reality after a week long vacation of eating and not exercising.  Thanks to everyone who guest blogged while I was away!