Friday, January 29, 2010

Food and Cooking

Again, it may seem that I've been posting mostly about food and cooking lately.

Scusi mi. 



It's what's on my mind most of the time.  Each day (sometimes every other), I sit down with my cookbooks and hundreds of recipes on-line and make meal plans- lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, plus breakfast on the weekends.  Then, I head out to the market or local shops and pick out fresh ingredients.  It is time consuming and I consider myself very lucky that I am able to do this for my husband and I.  For some it may seem like a chore- the constant nagging question of what to prepare and the task of grocery shopping every day.  For me, it's the opposite.  I derive pleasure from picking out recipes, scouring the markets, spending time in the kitchen, and serving up (and eating) my creations.  I also have the luxury of time to do it.  If I was working a full-time job outside the home I think I would be less enthusiastic...but there are ways to still bring fresh, great-tasting food to your table, even when you're tired or pressed for time.



Nonetheless, here are a few things to consider regarding daily grocery shopping...
  • It's fresh, fresh, fresh.  I truly believe the freshest ingredients result in the best tasting dishes.
  • There are little to no preservatives on the produce here and it's locally grown.  Therefore, it doesn't last as long as conventional produce.  You must buy less more frequently or you're wasting your money.  (Few preservatives and locally grown also result in a better product.  It's allowed to ripen on the vine, so to speak, instead of on the truck traveling to the store.)
  • Italian refrigerators and pantries/cabinets are small and do not offer much storage space.
  • I eat what I'm in the mood for.  (In the past, what I bought on Sunday didn't appeal to me on Thursday...)

Farmers' Markets, small grocery stores like Trader Joe's, and home gardens provide me hope for access to great ingredients when I return.  If you can't tell, I'm really, really going to miss the food here!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Heart Pasta

Pasta.
Just the word evokes comfort.  It's quintessentially Italian.  "Pasta" translates literally as "paste"- named for the starting composition in the making process.  Easy, healthy, and economical also come to mind.  How could you NOT love the stuff?

My pasta-making project led me to do some research on this food art and I've decided to share the fun and quirky sites I found.  I enjoyed making it by hand, but will also enjoy trying out a pasta attachment for a certain Artisan stand mixer waiting for me back home. :)

Joy the Baker Pasta Inspiration
Pasta 101: A Video Demonstration (with strange choir background music)
A to Z Pasta Guide
Pasta Guide by Shape
National Pasta Association

And now, just to illustrate how crazy I am for the stuff, I leave you with an inventory of my pantry...seven different types...

  1. Cellentani (hollow spirals with ridges)
  2. Farfalle (bow tie)
  3. Lasagna
  4. Mini Pipe Rigate (mini elbows with ridges)
  5. Pennette Rigate (small penne with ridges)
  6. Spaghetti
  7. Tempestine (small round balls, similar to couscous)


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Foto + Parole: Vicenza and Adventures



I know this blog is supposed to be about Adventures Made by us Taylors.  Well, with sickness abound (we both have colds...) and cold weather, we've been taking it easy and staying home or just locally in Vicenza.  Our last travel big adventure was back in November and I am working on a special presention for you of that Amsterdam and Brugge trip.

As a result, I've been writing much more about less adventurous topics like food and shopping.  Personally, I consider them adventures... Making pasta and gnocchi  by hand was certainly a culinary adventure.  It took us into new territory involving rolling pins and tossing flour all over the table.  Rolling and cutting out Christmas cookies, that may or may not have too much salt or not enough baking soda, was a little adventure-like.  We were on a trek to discover how they would taste in the end.  And shopping? Well, it may not be a true "adventure" but here in Italy, it's a Saturday past-time like no other.

I've also been frequenting more and more blogs.  I've picked up that some sites do "Wordless Wednesdays" and post only photos.  I've been providing you a little Italian verison of "Foto Solo" with Christmas Dinner and a few of the last adventure (to tide you over until my presentation is complete...)  Since the majority of our time has been in Vicenza lately, I decided this week to share some from our temporary hometown.  (Technically, I guess I just broke the "Wordless Wednesday" chain, but I wanted to explain my past and future Wednesday posts). 


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Benvenuto New Follower

I have a new follower! I'm up to 6 now. Yay!



Can't you see how excited I am?

The rest of you readers out there need to come on down, join, and follow this blog publicly. 
Yes, lurkers, that includes you... :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shopping, Browsing, Looking, Buying

What's the difference?  "Shopping" means different things to different people. Whenever I say "I'm going shopping" to my hubby, he moans the classic husband-groan right on cue. But to him, shopping implies spending money, where as to me shopping doesn't always result in money spent. We've had discussions that the word "shopping" implies "looking" and "buying" to him, whereas sometimes for me it only results in "looking" or "browsing".  So from now on, I'm only "browsing" if I don't really intend to buy anything, only to look around and kill time for an afternoon.  Did I mention that the sales are really great right now?  I'm headed out the door now... just to "browse" of course... 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shopping

It's sale time! Sales here are special and a little bit of a big deal.  They only occur twice per year- during the months of January and July.  Merchants place their items on sale, usually granting 20 to 50% discounts.  It makes sense that they want to clear their shelves and racks for the next season.  Strangely enough, this designated sale period is also mandated by Italian law.  Stores may only have sales during these two months.  As a result, this year Michael and I saved our Christmas shopping for each other until January...

I've also taken advantage of sales on home goods at a favorite department store: Coin.  I scored a set of 6 balloon wine glasses, cloth napkins, and new towels, all for 50% off.




    


Monday, January 11, 2010

Homemade Handmade Gnocchi

I hadn't heard of gnocchi until I came to Italy.  As soon as I tried these little pillow-shaped pasta, I was smitten.  They are actually made from potatoes rather than flour and resemble dumplings in taste and texture.  They go well with tomato sauces but I prefer them with cheesy ones.  I've had them in restaurants and I found fresh ones at the grocery store.  I then came across a recipe that seemed do-able and soon discovered a new favorite comfort food that I can easily make myself.  You should give it a shot too... you will certainly be surprised.

A visual demonstration...of Giada's gnocchi recipe from Everyday Pasta.

Start with two whole baking potatoes. 
(Giada suggests russets.  I used ones specifically identified for making gnocchi.)
Pierce them all over using a fork.


  
Roast them in the oven at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes.
or
Microwave on High, turning once, for 12 minutes.
Either way, cook until tender.
Cut potatoes in half and scoop insides into a large bowl.





Use a fork to mash the potatoes VERY WELL.
(This step is crucial for a smooth texture and to avoid lumps in the finished gnocchi)




Stir in one egg, lightly beaten.  Add one teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
Sift in 3/4 cup all-purpose flour.



Stir until blended.
(I used my hands to make this lovely potato dough ball)



Scoop out a small amount of the dough
Roll into a small ball.
Then, roll into a rope.
(Reminds me of making "snakes" as a child with Playdough.)




Cut the "snake" into 1-inch pieces.




Roll over the tines of a fork to make ridges.
Place on a baking sheet until ready to cook.
(I tossed my gnocchi pieces with flour to prevent them from sticking to each other or to my pan as I made the rest of the batch.)



Bring a pot of water to boil.  Salt the water. 
Carefully place half of the gnocchi in the pot.
Cook until the gnocchi float, about 3 minutes.
Scoop the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon and reserve in a colander.

For the sauce...
Melt butter in skillet with 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon of fresh over medium heat until the butter's melted, about 2 minutes.
(Original recipe calls for 3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks!  I used a couple of tablespoons)
Transfer gnocchi to skillet.
Toss to coat.


 
Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.
 
 

 
Mangia!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Homemade Handmade Pasta

Another cooking challenge that I'm able to check off the list...homemade handmade pasta.  Now, I'm not talking about using a stand mixer with a pasta attachment.  I, or should I say "we", used our hands, a rolling pin, and old-fashioned elbow grease to crank out this pasta.   




First, I must pause and dish out some credit.  I am a regular follower of the lovely blog site called Joy the Baker.  Not only does she post witty dessert recipes, occasionally she offers insight to her other kitchen adventures such as pumpkin and butternut squash soup and homemade handmade pasta.  Her pasta post inspired me to do what I've been longing to do since I came to Italy- make pasta in my kitchen by hand.

We kneaded.




We rolled.






We cut.




We filled.


I used a ricotta-prosciutto-spinach mixture and topped it with a butter-oregano sauce... Giada's creation.




The result?  Deliciously fresh and chewy pasta. No preservatives. 
Nothing but goodness!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foto Solo: Cena di Natale 2009


Auguri da Italia

Seasons Greetings from Italy!
It's officially January 2010! (I can't believe it...)  And, the winter weather came too.   It's really cold here!  Snow is trying to fall.  It's more like a mix of freezing rain.  The only thing I want to do is stay inside where it's warm and cozy.  I've seen freezing temps for back home too.  The world has received the 2010 chill. 



I know it seems that I have been MIA lately.  Sorry about that.

Here are my excuses...
  1. Stomach flu... no details necessary.
  2. Slooooooow internet.  All the Italians are home for the holidays and must be spending their vacation online.  Maybe not, but our internet connection has been really bogged down lately.  Remember when internet was dial-up?  It's like that for us right now.  Click....and.... wait... I want to share the evidence of our Christmas dinner but it's impossible to upload pictures.
  3. Hubby's on vacation.  We've had some wonderful holiday quality time.  But, there's only one computer for two people.  I lose. 
Updates are coming! 
    • Christmas dinner photos...
      • Hubby's surprise birthday dessert...
        • Handmade pasta and gnocchi...
          • Amsterdam & Brugge trip reports and photos...
            • And something new for 2010- a guest blogger!