Month: October 2014

Week 4: Italy (+ Wrap-Up of Our European Staycation)

I started the day with one of Massimo's amazing lattes.

I started the day with one of Massimo’s amazing lattes.

This is the last in our European Staycation series, which is introduced here.

We’ve capped off our European Staycation with dinner in Italy, and we were joined by Massimo’s father, brother, and sister, which made it even better. Although our quaint, dinners-for-two have been lovely, there is something about Italy that makes you feel like you should be eating with large ground of people – family, strangers, it doesn’t matter. The more the merrier!

For this meal, I’m sorry to report that there are no recipes. That’s because we wanted the centerpiece to be Massimo’s grandmother’s gnocchi, which happens to not be written down. This gnocchi is the stuff Italian dreams are made of: once you have it, you will never stop thinking about it. My father-in-law happens to be an amazing chef (straight from Italy), and I’ve had it at each of his restaurants, but I haven’t had it in a while, and I was craving it. Solution: Massimo, it’s time to learn the family recipe!

Massimo kneading the pasta dough.

Massimo kneading the pasta dough.

My father-in-law, Antonio Barbi, rolling and cutting the gnocchi.

My father-in-law, Antonio Barbi, rolling and cutting the gnocchi.

To compliment our gnocchi, Massimo whipped up some marinara sauce and we melted some ooey-gooey mozzarella in it until it was all just one smooth, cheesy, plate of comfort food. We served it up with some melon slices wrapped in prosciutto de parma, touched with a balsamic glaze, an arugula salad, and Massimo’s homemade bread. We finished it off with a trip to the bakery for an assortment of Italian pastries, which we shared among the five of us with wine, of course.

It was a delicious evening, filled with amazing scents, filling flavors, and my loving family – you can’t really ask for anything more. This meal lives on in my mind (and fortunately through leftovers in the fridge). I wish I could go back to Italy every day of my life.

The gnocchi after it's first cooking.

The gnocchi after its first cooking.

As we completed our European Staycation project, I was thinking back on all our amazing meals and journeys, and I’m so glad we decided to do this. At times it was a little crazy, especially when we got so busy it seemed silly to put so much work into something we didn’t need to do. But so many good things came out of this project, like:

Not a great picture, but here you can see the ooey gooey deliciousness that is this gnocchi. God bless Italy!

Not a great picture, but here you can see the ooey gooey deliciousness that is this gnocchi. God bless Italy!

We didn’t go out to eat at all the whole month, and really never had the itch to go out. The fabulous meals we were making at home made it so we didn’t even think about restaurants. Eating at home is healthier, and we saved some money, always a plus!

– Our at-home dates were purposeful, fun, and dare I say romantic (yuck, this isn’t that kind of blog; I’m sorry). Dates are all about having fun, reconnecting, and making memories together. Staying at home and trying (and messing up) new recipes together accomplished all that and it was fabulous. Cooking with Massimo is my favorite thing, so these dates were perfect.

Prosciutto-wrapped melon anyone?

Prosciutto-wrapped melon anyone?

We broke up the monotony and stress of our regular routines by making these meals together. Chores were neglected, homework was put off, and the laundry list of to-dos was ignored when we were making these dinners. It really was like we went away somewhere else. I’m going to miss that, but maybe we can make those little moments somehow anyway.

Homemade bread, of course.

Homemade bread, of course.

We learned about new places and tried foods we’d never had before. Each week, I researched the destination to plan the meal, because a country’s history and geography greatly affect their cuisine. It was fascinating to find out what is important to each country’s palette, and getting to appreciate their unique ingredients and flavors.

We ate the desserts so fast, I didn't get a chance to photograph them. But this was the box.

We ate the desserts so fast, I didn’t get a chance to photograph them. But this was the box.

When we recover from our European trip, we may think about exploring another continent. Until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed travelling with us, and I hope that we might have even inspired some travelling (or staying) of your own.

-debarbibee

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Week 3: France

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This is the third in my European Staycation series, introduced here.

This week we finally made our way to the culinary destination of France! I’ve always wanted to visit France, and taste real French food, especially since Julia Child and Jacques Pepin happen to be my two favorite chefs.

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Neither of us knew anything about cooking French food, but with our recently acquired library cards we knew just where to go. We picked up Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. (Both are fabulous cookbooks and I highly recommend them.)

Sadly, due to crazy schedules, our dinner got moved to a school night (yuck), so it was quite rushed. We picked dishes that would only require quick preparations and saved the crepes for after class. Still, the dinner was amazing, and my only regret about the meal was that I had to rush through it. Something about French food says it should be savored. I’m sorry, France.

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Our main course was an improvised Ratatouille and Steak au Poivre, and we finished it off with dessert crepes with whipped cream and strawberries. The Ratatouille was superb: the vegetables were tender and it was so simple I can’t believe it. We are most definitely going to make it again. The steak, similarly was moist and delicious. Just the simplest flavors and it tasted gourmet.

We sampled French accordion music available on Spotify and later devoured a generous stack of crepes while watching Paris, Je t’aime. We savored our flavorful, albeit brief, visit to France and who knows, we might even come back some day! Bon apetit!

Next week: it’s off to Spain!

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These are the recipes we used for our diner francais:

Ratatouille

There are about a million ways to make ratatouille, not including the one in the Disney movie of the same name. We needed something fast, but that would keep warm while we make the steak. So we modified this recipe from taste.com (we used the cooking method and the red wine vinegar, but only about a half-cup of water), then threw it in a 13×9 baking dish, tossed on about 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup bread crumbs and roasted it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, when the steak was done. The topping idea came from Julia and Jacques’ cookbook.

Steak au Poivre

from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

1 thick-cut well-marbled strip steak, about 1 pound total weight and 1 1/2 inches thick

2 Tbs or so mixed whole peppercorns

Salt

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs minced shallots

1 Tbs cognac (or bourbon or red wine)

1/2 cup flavorful dark stock (we used beef stock)

1 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Trim the steak of all the excess fat and cartilage. Cut the meat into 2 pieces (to serve 2 people). Crush the peppercorns using the back of a skillet against a cutting board.

2. Sprinkle salt to taste on top and bottom of the steaks. Press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, per your preference.

3. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy saute or frying pan over high heat. Lay the peppered steaks in and fry for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared.

4. Turn the meat and cook the second side until desired doneness. Remove the steaks to a warm platter.

5. Add the shallots to the pan and saute briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape up the drippings. Lean away from your face and pour in the cognac/bourbon/red wine. Cook for a few moments and then add the stock.

6. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for about 1 minute to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the soft butter, swirling the pan until it melts and incorporates. Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.

Dessert Crepes

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1 cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup melted butter

2 Tbs sugar

a large pinch of salt

3/4 cup water

1. Pour the flour in a blender, then add the egg and egg yolk, milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt. Blend for 5 or 10 seconds to make a thick, lump-free batter. Add the water and blend until smooth. Refrigerate the batter for at least an hour.

2. Whisk the batter well. Set a 7-inch non-stick frying pan over moderate heat for a minute or two. When hot, brush the bottom with a very thin coat of butter. Ladle 1/4 cup of batter and pour into the pan. Tilt and rotate the pan to swirl the batter around the bottom until it is even and very thin.

3. Cook over medium to high heat for about 45 seconds to one minute, until the edges are cooked and the bottom is lightly browned.

4. Loosen the crepe and flip it over. Cook for another 30-45 seconds. Slide it onto a plate to keep cool. Repeat with the remaining batter.

5. Serve with delicious things like powdered sugar, cinnamon, homemade whipped cream, strawberries, nutella, or apricot preserves.

-debarbibee

Week 2: The Netherlands

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis is the second in our European Staycation series, introduced here.

Welkom! This week we “traveled” to the Netherlands for a fish-centered supper. We were both particularly excited about this dinner because my husband was born in and lived the first half of his life in Holland, and I hope someday to be able to walk with him down the streets where he grew up, and taste the dishes of his childhood (and of course, to visit his family there!). But alas, for now, this dinner will do.

We took the recipes out of this fabulous cookbook we received as a wedding present form Massimo’s family Daan and Mai, Dutch & Belgian Food and Cooking. Since the recipes are not available online, I have typed them up for you below.

The Dutch are not particularly known for their cuisine, but if you can ever get your hands on some stroopwafels, ontibijtkoek, Dutch licorice, or Dutch pancakes, you are in for a treat! For this meal, we wanted to include a few hallmark Dutch ingredients, like fish, Gouda cheese, and white asparagus. The menu for our dinner in Holland included: Alkmaar cheese soup, Flemish-style cod, and Dutch asparagus. The flavors blended together beautifully, and the scents were intoxicating! Plus, the use of butter in every dish never hurts.

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We did not indulge in the music of the Netherlands this week, because Massimo insists that Dutch is the worst language in which to sing, and wanted to spare my ears. The meal took a while to finish, but it was such a stress reliever to try something out of the ordinary, especially when that includes cooking with Massimo, one of my all-time favorite things.

My favorite dish out of this meal has to be the white asparagus. I’ve never had it before and although it was simply prepared, it was very elegant and had a terrific texture. All in all, we had a great time exploring the tastes of the Netherlands and I’m so looking forward to our next culinary adventure.

Here are the recipes from Dutch feast:

Alkmaar Cheese Soup

3 tbsp butter

1 onion, chopped

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 cups milk

1 1/4 cups grated aged (sharp) Gouda cheese

1 small celeriac (we used white turnip)

salt, to taste

chopped chives, to garnish

1. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for five minutes.

2. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for two minutes. Gradually stir in the milk.

3. Continue to stir until slightly thickened. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, peel and finely dice the celeriac/turnip. Boil in a pot of water for about 10 minutes, until soft.

5. Drain celeriac/turnip and add to the soup with the remaining cheese.

6. Season to taste with salt. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chives.

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Flemish-Style Cod

7 tbsp butter

1 onion or 3 shallots, finely chopped

handful of chopped fresh parsley

drizzle of olive or vegetable oil

4 cod fillets, each about 6 oz.

bay leaf

1 1/4 cups white beer, such as Hoegaarden, or dry white wine

8 lemon slices

4 thyme sprigs

4 tbsp soft white breadcrumbs

salt and ground pepper, to taste

parsley and lemon wedges to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use half the butter to grease a flame-proof casserole or frying pan that can be used in the oven.

2. Add the onion/shallots and parsley and drizzle with oil. Transfer the casserole/pan to the oven and cook for about four minutes.

3. Meanwhile, season the cod fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Then place on top of the onion and parsley mix. Add the bay leaf and pour the beer/wine to almost cover the fish. Top each fillet with two lemon slices and a thyme sprig.

4. Return the casserole/pan to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. The fish should flake when tested with the tip of a sharp knife. Transfer the fillets to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

5. Put casserole/pan on medium heat on top of the stove. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the juices have reduced by about 3/4. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until they have been absorbed.

6. Cut the remaining butter into cubes and add to the sauce a little at a time. Stir until thick and creamy. If it’s too thick, add more beer/wine to thin it.

7. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Pour the sauce over the fish, and garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

Dutch Asparagus

4 1/2 pounds of the finest white asparagus

1 1/2 tbsp salt

8-12 small new potatoes (we used ordinary russet potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch pieces), peeled

4 eggs

scant 1/2 cup butter

8 slices unsmoked cooked ham

pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg, to garnish

chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

1. Rinse the asparagus and trim about 3/4 inch from the base. Peel the spears with a vegetable peeler from the tips downwards. Reserve the trimmings and peels.

2. Put the peels and trimmings in a pan and cover with a clean dish towel.

3. Place the asparagus spears on the dish towel, fold in the edges of the towel around the asparagus. Add enough cold water to cover it and add the salt. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and poach gently for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes. Test that the asparagus is tender by pricking the ends with a fork. They should be soft, but not mushy.

5. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and keep warm.

6. Hard-boil the eggs in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cool under cold running water. Remove the shells and halve the eggs.

7. Using a slotted spoon, remove the asparagus from a pan and drain on a dish towel. Melt the butter.

8. Arrange the asparagus spears on individual plates and garnish with ham, hard-boiled egg halves, and warm potatoes sprinkled with nutmeg. Pour over with butter and chopped fresh parsley.

-debarbibee

Week 1: Ireland

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This is the first of our posts in our European Staycation. You can read the original post here.

Yesterday, we began our European Staycation by travelling to Ireland for the evening. Most people have Irish food at St. Patrick’s day, and it is generally corned beef and cabbage, with potatoes and carrots. This is a fine meal, but we wanted to explore new flavors in this island nation.

In my research, I found that Irish food has a lot of meat, fish, and potatoes, and that they rarely use spices other than salt and pepper. We really wanted to make Irish stew, the national dish of Ireland, but it would take at least two hours and we didn’t have that kind of time yesterday. So, we used some of their staple ingredients and had a delicious Irish feast! (And boy, were we stuffed.)

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The main dishes were boxty potatoes (a potato pancake), roasted cabbage steaks, and Irish soda bread. We also enjoyed some Dubliner cheese, and had a couple of imported chocolate bars for dessert (Aero and Lion bars).

We jammed the whole time to my own Irish playlist, which mostly consisted of the The Chieftains. And at the library we found the movie Tristan and Isolde to top off the night.

These are the recipes we used:

Boxty Potatoes via Martha Stewart. The recipe was amazing, and though we were stuffed the two of us polished off the whole batch! We ate them with sour cream.

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Irish Soda Bread via Plain Chicken. This four-ingredient recipe was a snap to throw together, and it was deliciously moist! I added a few extra drops of buttermilk, as the recipe says I’m allowed. The loaf is not as big as some other recipes, so you could probably double the recipe and keep it in the single loaf pan for bigger slices.

Garlic Rubbed Roasted Cabbage via Cooking Preparation. This recipe is just pictures, but we roasted the cabbage steaks for a good 30 minutes. They were delicious, though not necessarily traditional. We just wanted some vegetables on the plate!

It was so much fun to transport ourselves to Ireland for the night. I can’t wait for the Netherlands next week!

European Staycation

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For those of you who read the title and thought, “What?!? They are going to Europe?!” I regret to inform you that we are not, in fact, going to Europe, as much as we desperately would love to.

However, on our current budget and my enrollment in law school, taking a European tour is not  – how you say? – responsible right now. While there is absolutely nothing like New England in the fall, there is always that part of me that longs to go, to break out of the stress and schedules, and to carelessly wander around strange places and meet the days I’ve dreamed of for years.

So, I could sit at home and cry about how I’m not in Europe, scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest feeds of amazing places that people I love are experiencing without me, or I could do something else. Something…. smaller. But happier.

My goal for the month of October is to travel to a European country I’ve always wanted to see, for one night a week. (I know, like this girl needs anything else going on?) But this will be a 100% fun addition to my schedule. I’m making a menu and we will be cooking and eating a new dish we’ve never made before, one night a week from each of four countries: Ireland, Netherlands, France, and Italy.

We might even pop in some music or a movie from each place, too. Who knows?! And if it goes well, we might even go to other continents later. The point is just to have fun, and to (just a little bit) travel somewhere new every week, in the only way we can right now.

Week 1: Ireland

Week 2: The Netherlands

Week 3: France

Week 4: Italy

Bon appetit!