We have had a few weeks or so of weather that have given a nod toward fall. It has been a much needed reprieve from a very hot steamy August. Although cool and rainy, Zac and I found ourselves craving the beach just before a storm rolled in. The sky was a serene medium grey and the orange billed seagulls were flying overhead occasionally swooping low for food. They are never a quiet or courteous breed. The overcast sky made the water appear a deep jade green with waves beginning to pick up as the storm approached. There was a beautiful dark wooden sailboat clad with crisp white sails out a mile or so off the rugged coast that was slowly tacking and jibing its’ way back toward shore.
It began to sprinkle yet no sign of thunder or lightening, so we swam. I love the earthy smell of rain and the gentle repetitive sound of the raindrops hitting the water. It’s calming. Although the water temperature was just right, we were making plans as we swam to tuck in, change into something cozy, and make dinner together. Swimming inevitably makes us ravenously hungry. It had to be savory with a bit of comfort and something that would warm us up on the inside. On our ride home, we stopped by a local fresh fish market and picked up wild caught blue mussels and a few loaves of crusty European bread that were still warm. By this point, we had agreed on how we wanted to cook them. Zac loves to cook, especially sauteing.
This recipe is elementary French. And, it was healthy, that is, until the cream was added. No need asking, we indulged, and not shyly so. Spanish saffron is one of my favorite spices, but sparingly used. It comes from the stamen, or filament, of a crocus plant and is a vivid crimson hued fine thread. It is an autumn flowering perennial that is found throughout the Mediterranean Basin, including most of coastal Italy, southern France, southern Portugal, Lebanon, Sardinia, and Corsica. It is quite expensive because it takes more than 150,000 flowers and 400 hours of labor to yield only 2 pounds of saffron. If you can find a specialty spice shop that sells it bulk, a pinch is all you’ll need or a half of a gram will be plenty for a few dishes.
To prepare the mussels, simply discard any that do not close to the touch. Scrub the shells well to clean any sand off. In a batch of wild caught mussels, there may be a few with beards, which look like threads of brown seaweed. Simply hold the mussel in one hand, cover the other hand with a dry towel, and grasp the beard; give it a sharp yank toward the hinge end of the mussel. This can feel a bit like a game of tug-of-war between you and the mussel. Wild caught mussels don’t tend to accumulate a lot of sand inside and so don’t require soaking in water. Besides, no self-respecting marine mussel opens up in fresh water. So, pour a glass of red, which is divine with saffron, and settle in for some much needed time in the kitchen. Enjoy!
The vibrantly colored world of Murano art glass, designed by artists Carlo and Giovanni Moretti, was established in 1958 under the name of Carlo Moretti. Originally traditional in style, today it is a stunning collection of modern, clean, and essential pieces. In the 1970′s, they experimented both in the use of components and glass making tools and produced a beautifully transparent glass collection. Each a blank canvas for their thoughtful yet deliberate use of bold primary color and minimal design aesthetic that are iconic to the Moretti name.
When visiting Venice or Venezia, I happened upon the Carlo Moretti showroom, L’Isola. I have been an admirer for quite some time. My eyes lit up like a child discovering a candy store and were filled with surprise and delight. I wandered in with a brisk curiosity. Each piece handmade in limited number and signed personally by Carlo Moretti. The designs are not fussy, nor shy, with their generous use of color, varied line weights, and contrasting symmetry. The artists hand is evident in its’ imperfect lines, some controlled while others are free flowing. Purely eye candy. The middle photo is from the collezioni collection, i diversi, bicchieri or glass. The pieces above are from the colori collection, pirus, coppette or cup.
L’Isola is located in the beautiful San Marco area, located nearby Piazza San Marco and the lovely St. Mark’s Basilica. I absolutely love the historic Venetian Gothic architecture contrasted by Moretti’s modern art glass.
The main waterways were bustling with public transportation onto the old quaint island, while the smaller canals were lined with classic weathered wooden boats tied up by private residences. Venice is a maze of mineral green canals threaded through the city linked by bridges. Narrow cobbled streets or pathways were lined with shops, today mostly kitschy and catering to tourists, with an occasional exclusive home interior or designer handbag shop for the elite traveler tucked in between. After the better part of a day on foot, a steaming macchiato and chocolate hazelnut gelato sounded divine. Shall we?
It feels like just yesterday that we were finishing up the school year and longing for warm summer days. There is something magical about summer. The lifestyle is so relaxed, we let go a bit and abandon our schedules and easily become accustomed to spontaneity. We feel somewhat obligated to soak up every moment that summer has to offer. Long candlelit dinners outdoors savoring conversation and sharing a good bottle of wine. Nights by a bonfire underneath the starry sky with friends’ warm smiling faces aglow. The familiar sound of the fire crackling and crickets chirping.
Panzanella is Italian for bread salad. There are endless versions. I’m always inspired by what is in season at the market. It makes for a perfect picnic, wrapped up thoughtfully, along with a good book that you haven’t found time for otherwise, and perhaps a road trip to discover a new beach or trail.
Wednesdays and Saturdays are shopping days. The farmer’s market is open and bustling with locals. A cup of coffee in one hand and a basket in the other…off I go. It’s cool today. The deep cool grey blanket of clouds are looking like fall. The sky is a crisp cornflower blue. Even the air is familiar in a pleasant way of the season to come. Perhaps, we’ll have an Indian summer in September.
The farmer’s market is in full swing with plenty of delicious offerings. There is nothing like eating local fresh ingredients straight from the farmer. I feel so inspired by the deeply hued, perfectly ripe handpicked fruits and vegetables. The organic arugula was gorgeous today. We are having seriously humid heat this week and all we crave is cold refreshing fare. No one is volunteering to stand by the hot grill. It’s the 4th of July and we are going boating. We will watch the fireworks with friends and these are perfect for packing up. I can’t believe it is already July, my how time flies in the summer.
This recipe is simple. Place a pot of water on the stove to boil, cook shrimp for 2 minutes, for medium size, drain and place in a water bath. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, juice a lemon, finely grate garlic cloves, chop chives, add a few drops of Tabasco and a little mayo. I use less mayo and more lemon juice than the recipe calls for because I like it lighter like a dressing. If you are packing to go, assemble on site so as to alleviate the bread from soaking up the mayo. Add a generous pile of arugula, and more chives if you like, and you are good to go. I like to serve with salty root vegetable chips and sweet ripe melon. Happy 4th!
My lovely mom, Betsy, makes a to-die-for carrot cake. She has been making it for years. Simply stated, it’s divine. Perhaps, it is all of the love that she pours into the recipe that makes it perfect in every way.
It is the simplest recipe with only eight ingredients in the cake. The frosting is a thick luscious butter cream. I must admit, though. I am not patient, at all. I know I am supposed to add the wet ingredients and then the dry, but sometimes I just quickly measure (only because baking is a science), pour the ingredients in all at once, and turn the mixer on slowly so as to not create a cloud of flour. Bliss.
A dear girlfriend stopped by last night and I showed her my cake. I said, “It is a little bit lopsided.” She said, “It looks organic.” We both laughed. But, really, it does. Organic in the sense that it looks very homemade. A few spots where the frosting isn’t perfectly covering because the walnuts were too big. And, there was way too much frosting on the lower side to compensate for the lopsidedness. I’m not sure in the end if it remedied it or weighed it down further, but knowing this, everyone wanted a slice off the lower side.
It is nothing a pastry chef would come up with aesthetically; however, it is one of those darlings that everyone asks for the recipe. The flavors meld beautifully together especially by the second day. So, I made it last night for this eve. My family is coming around and we are celebrating two birthdays. I can’t wait.
Tuna Nicoise is a classic from the Cote D’Azur region of France. Undoubtedly, it was Julia Child who inspired this dish in the States. Lovely Julia. Classically made with tuna, Nicoise olives, green beans or haricot verts, tomatoes, boiled red potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and anchovies. I’ve also had versions made with artichoke hearts, which I adore.
Truth be told, I’ve never loved tuna until I tried fresh tuna, be it in sushi or a seared steak. Somehow, it always seemed so fishy and laden with mayonnaise. Fresh tuna, seared for only a minute or two on each side, is succulent and melts in your mouth. I’ve created a simple yet modern take on the classic using handmade whole wheat pasta in lieu of the potatoes, crisp blanched green beans, delicate Liguria olives, fresh parsley, Sashimi tuna steak, and a lemon garlic dressing.
The dressing is both pucker from the lemon juice with heat from the garlic. I added an hint of Italian anchovy paste to the dressing, which is entirely optional but divine. Fresh anchovies are classic in a Nicoise, although I am admittedly working my way up to this acquired taste, with an emphasis on working. C’est la vie!
We have so enjoyed the longer daylight, hiking the dune trails, and the warm breezy days at the lake. It’s early in the season and the water is still chilly. I’ve been in once, yes all the way under, or it doesn’t count in my family. There is no such thing as sitting looking vogue on the beach. We are all fish and absolutely cannot resist the temptation of water without diving in wholeheartedly, well in this case, plunging into the deep blue.
This is going to be a quick post today as the end of the school year is drawing near with lots of loose ends to tie up. I’d like to share a favorite summer one dish recipe with you. It’s fresh and healthy. The sweet corn has been so deliciously sweet, juicy, and crunchy. I’m smiling at the idea of corn being juicy, but it really is. I literally had so much sweet corn juice on my cutting board that I poured it into the dish as part of the dressing. Add to that, the salty creamy feta which is its’ perfect compliment. Fresh basil. Good peppery olive oil. Fresh lemon juice.
Every time I serve this dish, friends want the recipe. It is really a bit more of a short list of ingredients that you chop and toss together. I make mine with whole wheat orzo. It’s the perfect late afternoon ‘go to’ after swimming at the lake all day. It packs up easily to take on a picnic. Somehow, food tastes so good eaten outdoors. What’s not to love? I hope you enjoy!
We spent the first few weeks of May wearing out cobblestones in Europe, partly in Northern Italy in the Lombardy region, Bellagio on Lake Como, or Lago di Como. It is situated at the north most cape of the peninsula with the Alps at the north end of the lake. It’s breathtaking!
The thing I love most about Italy is the style of living. Somehow, it just seems right. Drinking good strong cappuccino in the morning with a cornetto, italian sweet bread, eating a long lunch outdoors at a cafe and really savoring good fresh food, drinking wine and having dinner late, and being in a place that is so incredibly beautiful that each time you turn a corner you are in awe. For me, the beauty of Italy, its’ uniqueness, its’ culture is most readily found in the simple daily pleasures of life.
My grandfather and family were from Montoggio and Acquafredda, small mountainous villages just north of Genoa. Needless to say, it has always been a dream of mine to visit Italy. The deep blue water was placid and the sky hazy during our stay. We set out on foot to explore and found cobbled steps up the hills with quaint shops and restaurants. The rugged rocky mountains were partially covered with lush green vegetation, wildflowers growing out of the deep crevices, with the base reaching into the lake. The warm Tuscan yellow stuccoed villas with terracotta clay tiled roofs were a beautiful contrast to the rustic terrain.
Their cooking is simple and honest and I came home eager to cook the Mediterranean flavors we had experienced. This Grilled Lamb Kabob recipe is very basic and is perfect when paired with grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, red onions, and peppers. Buon Appetito!
I am always so inspired by visiting Jayson Home in Lincoln Park, Illinois. The shop is an ever evolving mix of one of a kind vintage pieces and sophisticated modern home furnishings and accessories hand selected from all over the globe. I love the layout of their gardens: the lines and symmetry, contrasting textures and colors. I feel inspired to plant, cook, and design interiors. It all goes hand in hand in life. If you have an artistic eye, it travels everywhere you go and crosses many disciplines.
I live in a loft on the ground floor and have a couple of zinc planters for planting a garden. It is just enough to satisfy my therapeutic need that only digging in soil can fulfill. I came home equipped with the basics to plant an herb garden: rosemary, English thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, sage, marjoram, and lavender. I’ll buy fresh basil and Italian parsley from my local farmer’s market when they open in May.
This recipe is an amalgamation of various inspirations. First, it was the gardens and the vibrant greens, then the plump amber golden raisins that I found at Fox and Obel, and I had just carted home a 4 lb bag of these lovely pearl shaped rosemary Israeli couscous from a local market. I don’t particularly love raisins, but these were gorgeous and uniquely flavored sweet ones. Hence, a bit of rummaging about in the refrigerator once I got home and tasting and sampling and voila! I had to play around with the flavors. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take this couscous more savory or sweet until I arrived, tasted, and loved.
The fresh ground cinnamon and thyme make this recipe earthy. Perfectly contrasted by the freshness of the citrus, peppery arugula, toasted almonds, and sweet raisins…it’s a keeper. So, make plenty and share with friends. I must admit though, as I was unpacking my finds, I realized that those silly golden raisins had distracted me from the chocolates. And, for this very reason I quite possibly will come to regret my momentary obsession with of all things, raisins.
For me, it is the crust that makes a pizza perfect or not. What I love is a crispy and savory crust with just the right amount of olive oil and sea salt. Inspired by a favorite authentic Italian restaurant’s pizza, Il Fornaio, I decided to come home and research the technique behind making good pizza dough. It’s actually so simple.
Make the dough the night before using type 0 or 00 wheat flour (not whole wheat), or a mixture of both; natural yeast or brewer’s yeast; sea salt and water. I love to add olive oil as well. Knead the dough by hand or with a low-speed mixer using the dough hook attachment. For this recipe, I used a technique called delayed fermenting which requires the dough to be wrapped in plastic and placed in the refrigerator overnight.
After the rising process, form the dough as much as possible by hand, reserving the rolling pin for necessity. Make it as thin as you can. Hand tossing is the best method to stretch the dough, but it is an art. While I’d love to paint the picture for you that I was tossing the dough in the air like a professional; truth be told (and one flour finger printed glass of red later), it’s an art that I haven’t come close to mastering. C’est la vie. A pizza stone is preferred to create the crispiest crust, although I didn’t have mine with me and it turned out surprisingly well! And, the oven must be set to maximum heat. Keep an eye on it because it cooks fast. Once cooked, it will be crispy and fragrant.
My philosophy with pizza toppings is the simpler the better.
Pizza Quattro Formaggi: tomatoes, and the cheeses mozzarella, stracchino, fontina, and ricotta. Basically, you want a balance of cheeses that have a soft, creamy texture with a mild and delicate flavor; contrasted by hard cheeses with a fairly pungent intense flavor. With this in mind, substitute as you like.
Pizza e Fichi: olive oil, sea salt, rosemary, and fresh figs. There is nothing quite like the unique taste and texture of fresh figs. They are lusciously sweet with a texture that combines the ripe juiciness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds.
Pizza Margherita, named after Queen Margherita of Italy: mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil. Classically made with San Marzano tomatoes which grow in the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius and mozzarella di bufala Campana which is made with milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio in semi-wild state. It is pure and simple.
I used a wonderful Italian tomato paste mixed with good olive oil. It is an all natural concentrated paste that has an intense rich tomato flavor. I topped it with fresh mozzarella and a hearty English thyme. It was quick and divine. What’s not to love?
If you are near an Il Fornaio, mostly located out West, it is an authentic Italian culinary experience that I highly recommend. Early morning brings rustic, European bread and Italian pastries hot from the oven and the rich scent of fresh brewed espresso. In the afternoon, handmade pastas and earthy sauces simmer while meats and vegetables roast in a coal burning oven. Bottles of wine, from small artisan regional wineries, are beautifully paired and uncorked to compliment the dishes. Perfectly finished with a sampling of Italian gelatos.
I’ll be back with another pizza dough recipe soon using the traditional rising technique which is covered with a cloth and rises overnight at room temperature. It is a recipe that has been in the family for generations. It is closer to a flat bread in texture. We make a sweet and savory version using the same dough. The sweet version is called figasetta and the savory figassa. My grandfather made it and always served it with hard Italian salami and a collection of cheeses. My father makes it perfect in every way, too, and has continued the tradition when we gather for the holidays. There is only one problem, there is no recipe. It’s one of those that is taught and to be made simply by the feel of the dough. With that said, i’ll be working on developing the recipe. So until then, my friends, pour a glass of wine and savor some time in the kitchen. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions regarding this recipe.