And, some insight on gardening, photography, travel, restaurants and other stuff going on in our world.
For our family, there is nothing more synonymous with Easter than making and eating homemade Babka. There are many variations of the iconic holiday tradition, but this is what we remember from our Polish heritage and our childhood: a light, textured, buttery, egg-rich, fragrant dough, studded with golden raisins (not too many) and a crusty brown shiny exterior, all to be slathered with more butter (of course).
No other version seems as authentic as this match to what we remember eating at our Grandmother’s home (Stella Uminska Brodow, our Babcia—although we never called her that). Easter memories are full of simple Polish food and tradition—kielbasa, hard-boiled eggs, ham, the treasured babka, early daffodils in the yard, and of a time long ago when the Polish priest came to her home to bless our Easter dinner. It is our joy to continue our heritage, long after all of our beloved Polish family members are with us no more.
One of our newer traditions has transitioned us from the standard solid colored eggs to a technique that is not only easy, but ties in (pun intended) to Linda’s background as a textile designer. By wrapping raw eggs tightly in printed silk tie fabric, and then boiling the eggs with vinegar for about 25 minutes, the dye from the tie is transferred to the shell of the egg, imparting a decorative design, almost mimicking the detailed painted designs of Polish painted wooden Easter eggs. This technique, courtesy of Martha Stewart, who is also Polish, can be found here: http://www.marthastewart.com/269788/silk-tie-easter-eggs
This year, it won’t be complete without a Good Friday trip to the Polish Deli, Basia’s in Ventor City, NJ, for the traditional kielbasa and ham, and maybe some pierogi and other Polish delicacies on the side.
Wesołych Świąt Wielkanoc!
3 pk (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (3 tbsp)
¾ cup warm water (110F)
1 Tb plus 1 cup sugar
7 3/4 cups flour (about)
1 1/2 cup milk
1 ¼ c unsalted butter or margarine
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup golden raisins
1 egg white
Grease side and bottom of 2 10-inch tube pans.
In shallow medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup warm flour; stir to combine. Cover; let stand in a warm place 5-10 minutes until foamy. Heat milk and butter or margarine in a small saucepan until melted. Let stand until mixture cools to warm. In a large bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 1 cup sugar until pale and frothy. Add cooled milk mixture, salt, and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Gradually beat in 4 1/2 cups flour. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough into a soft, smooth dough. Divide dough in half. Arrange one part dough in each greased pan. Cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly beat egg white and brush over top of dough. Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Makes two 10-inch loaves.Read More
Well, my first resolution of the New Year (losing weight) has already gone by the wayside, so I might as well move on to resolution #2, which I know will be much more gratifying and inspiring than starving myself. Of course, it has to do with food, photography, travel, and more importantly, back to blogging after a bit of a hiatus.
Last week, I finally got to experience a highly anticipated cooking class with Sunday Suppers, operated and hosted by Karen Mordechai, in Brooklyn, NY. I missed out on an earlier cooking/dinner event because my trigger finger for the “Buy Now” button wasn’t fast enough. So, I subscribed to Sunday Suppers, awaiting patiently for another opportunity which came about on January 19, 2014.
I was joined by my friend Julia Librone, who is a very fine baker of fabulous goodies, specializing in biscotti. As we entered the space, we were in awe of the beauty of the table setting. It set the mood for the hearty winter meal we were about to prepare, but the beautiful warm yellow and apricot hues of the centerpiece bursting through dried branches and twigs was indeed a hopeful reminder that spring is not too far away… unless the groundhog says otherwise.
After a little socializing and some tasty treats, Chef Ali Schmidt discusses the menu with us and we start right in working in the various stations that are set up for the pasta, beef and dessert.
Purple Beet Ravioli ~ ricotta, lemon, poppy seed
I have to say, I can’t wait to make this ravioli. Not only was it delicious, but the color was so strikingly beautiful that I think this will be the perfect dish to make for my husband for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure if Ali knows this, but the color is exactly the Pantone Color of the Year (Radiant Orchid – PMS 18-3224), so trendy!
Ali starts the pasta dough and Eddie finishes the kneading resulting in perfectly rolled out sheets. Some of the group helps roll out the pasta sheets, cut the shapes and fill the ravioli with the ricotta.
Beef Bourguignon ~ root vegetable, mushroom, cippolini onion
Since beef bourguignon is best served when made in advance, the dish was made the day before and Ali just demonstrated the basic steps to building the quintessential winter meal. Although I think I make a good beef stew (one of my world famous foods), I learned a few things that I will now apply to my recipe. One, I didn’t marinate the beef in red wine overnight, and two, I didn’t pre-cook the mushrooms and onions.
Chocolate Prune Armagnac Cake ~ creme fraiche
Now it’s Echo’s turn to share a most wonderfully rich, yet light, flourless chocolate cake. Apparently, the secret ingredient in this cake are the prunes, but not just any old prunes, they are Agen prunes (Pruneaux d’Agen) which were hand carried by Ali back from Paris.
And now, the mood is set and we are amazed at the beauty of this wonderful table that we are about to sit down at and share a fabulous meal.
Indeed, it was an amazing dinner. Thank you Karen, Ali, Echo and Eddie and everyone else who helped make this a memorable evening!
A secondo is traditionally the heartiest course, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main meal. Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, cod (baccala, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast).
At Il Campo Cucina, our immersion into cooking and eating with lessons on several main course dishes continued.
Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi, Podere la Fonte
At Podere la Fonte, we did not cook a meat course, but instead, participated in the making of two very hearty dishes; eggplant parmagiana (Melanzana Parmigiana), and Torta Pasqualina, a traditional Tuscan Quiche, typically served in the spring. Emmanuela’s hands once again rolled out a gorgeous sheet of pasta for enclosing a lovely mixture of sheep milk ricotta and fresh chopped, cooked Swiss chard and parmesan cheese, making indents for 9 eggs that would cook when baked in the pastry.
Marco in turn layered slices of lovely violet eggplant that had been browned in sunflower oil between his sauce and parmesan cheese.
Francesco Castiglia taught us the art of deboning a chicken to make Pollo Arrosto con Zafferano. The chicken was laid open, sprinkled with chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, and was rolled and tied, ready to roast. Saffron from San Gimignano and stock from the chicken bones, sautéed in olive, was used to make a delicious sauce. Each serving of chicken was topped with a presentation of the sauce and sliced leeks. The chicken was fragrant and lovely.
Luana’s deboning of a guinea fowl was different than Francesco’s in that the fowl was kept whole for stuffing, which is a feat that does not look simple. The dark-meat poultry was stuffed with chopped, cooked Swiss chard layered over slices of Pecorino Fresco. This cheese is aged only 3 months, and melts beautifully into the Swiss chard.
Fifteen minutes before the guinea fowl was finished roasting, Luana poured a good amount of Vin Santo over the fowl and put it back in the oven. The dish was further sweetened by an accompaniment of caramelized onions—nothing more than onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Delizioso!
Sue with our “chef” friends sporting their new Il Campo Cucina aprons! (From left to right, Sue, Debbie and Mary Anne; below, Anlsey)
If food is about life, then there is probably a story for every food creation known. Somewhere in the vicinity of 32 years ago, I wrote down 5 recipes I’d located for the ethereal dessert known as Coeur à la Crème in my now worn homemade recipe book. This must have been a chic and seemingly new dessert in the early 1980s. I must have bought the unique heart-shaped ceramic dish necessary to make this dessert, but I don’t recall when or where. The dish has holes in the bottom to let the whey of the dairy ingredients drain. Linda remembers the unveiling of this creamy white dessert at a family gathering, complete, I am sure, with strawberries and raspberries and a sauce flavored with a little bit of kirsch. I don’t. So when I moved 6 months ago, and packed up more than 20 years of kitchen paraphernalia, I almost didn’t bring the dish. But something made me wrap it up and pack it along; that, I remember, was a conscious decision amidst the chaos of boxes and bubble wrap.
When we considered what lovely offering we would showcase from our collection of world famous food for Valentine’s Day, I remembered the Coeur à la Crème dish, and I knew where it was! How wonderful to resurrect this memorable creamy dessert and for it to be chic once again. I searched online and found a number of differing recipes, some with sour cream, some with cottage cheese, or heavy cream, as well as cream cheese. I forgot about those 5 recipes I had written down, so long ago. So we went with the recipe that I am sure I made many years ago.
I’d forgotten the texture and the taste. It is a light and airy mixture, a sublime taste of non-too-sweet cheesecake without the density of a cream cheese mass or taste of a competing crust. The berry sauce is a burst of refreshment melting against that divine creaminess. It was better than I remembered.
The rest of the life story goes like this. I did some more internet research on the origin of this lovely Coeur à la Crème, translated literally as “heart of cream.” It appears that the Marie-Antoine Carême, “the king of cooks and the cook of Kings,” and father of haute French cuisine in the early 1800s for European royalty, introduced and adapted the recipe from his travels to Russia. The local significance of this, more than 200 years later, is that the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC), just a few miles from our home, has named their teaching restaurant Carême’s, in honor of this grandiose master chef, of which I am a student! The Academy may seem humble in its locale and surroundings, but it is worldly in every other way.
To possibly the very first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême –opulent, elegant, lavish and prolific, and to all the chefs at the Academy of Culinary Arts who, by their work, honor the restaurant’s namesake, and to everyone celebrating Valentine’s Day, enjoy this heavenly, creamy, cloud-like dessert, from our heart! And if a heart, like a circle, is an unbroken line, then I have come full circle in my life’s story.
Coeur à la Crème
Acidulated water (water and lemon juice)
3/4 pound large curd cottage cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2-4 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups berries (raspberies, strawberries, and blueberries. Can use a mix of all and save some berries for garnish)
3 tablespoons Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)
1 tablespoon water
Dip piece of cheesecloth into acidulated water. Wring dry and use to line 1 quart coeur à la crème mold, allowing 2 inch overhang on all sides.
Rub cottage cheese through fine strainer or food mill.
In a medium mixing bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cottage cheese, sugar, vanilla and salt and beat until light and creamy. Gently fold in whipped cream.
Turn in to prepared mold, smoothing over top. Cover with hanging cheesecloth. Place mold on wire rack set over a pie plate. Refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight (whey will drain, leaving the ‘heart’ off the cheeses).
For the berry sauce, add berries, sugar and water into medium saucepan. Over medium heat, stir berries until berries release their juices and liquid resembles a light syrup. Cool.
To serve, unwrap top of mold and invert onto flat serving platter; remove cheesecloth. Top with berries sauce and fresh berries.
Photos by Linda TaylorRead More
A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples include risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crepes, casseroles, or lasagnas.
At Il Campo Cucina, our hands-on cooking experiences were each wonderfully instructional and varied, and we generally made (and ate) at least 4 courses, as Italian tradition dictates. This is where we got down to business.
Our first day of cooking found us immersed in the agriturismo world of Podere La Fonte, hosted by organic farmers Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi. This beautiful and self-sustaining farm outside of Radicondoli is home to vineyards, olive groves, orchards, and an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
We were treated to learning to make a traditional Tuscan pasta dish—pici, or fat spaghetti. Pici are made with just three ingredients—semola flour, water and a little olive oil. After making the dough and letting it rest, we experimented with the pici roller, to make the long, thick strands of pasta. Emannuela’s expert hands worked the dough so adeptly; it took us just a little bit of practice to cut the dough into strands and then keep them from sticking together. The strands were placed with care on an antique embroidered linen and sprinkled with more semola until ready for the pot of boiling water.
Marco, meanwhile, tended to the sautéing of whole cloves of garlic in olive oil from Podere LaFonte’s trees until blond in color and very fragrant, over the open-hearth fire, for the Sugo Aglione (garlic tomato sauce) that would soon marry with the pici to create an amazingly simple but flavorful pasta dish.
Our fellow class members (and new friends!) taking notes.
Gratuitous cat photo
At Villa Anqua on our second day of cooking, we were introduced to Chef Francesco Costagli, chef for Albergaccio Ristorante in Castellina in Chianti, which has one Michelin star.
With the 16th century grainary at Anqua as Il Campo’s kitchen for our lesson, Chef Francesco took us through several wonderful dishes as we watched intently, took notes, rolled pasta, and drank wine. Especially beautiful were the Lasagnette (Ricotta e Bietole con salsa di Pomodoro). After rolling a gorgeous sheet of pasta thinner than a pie crust, Chef Francesco cut the pasta into 3” squares with a fluted pastry wheel. A mixture of fresh sheep milk ricotta, cooked and chopped swiss chard, eggs, and nutmeg was layered in dollops between the squares of fresh pasta, then sprinkled with shredded Parmesan for baking.
Francesco checking Linda’s work.
Sue finishing up assembling the lasagnettes.
Of particular note are the presentation skills possessed by Chef Francesco. Finished with a splash of olive oil and pomodo sauce, the lasagnettes were as delicious as they were beautiful!
We also enjoyed the Focaccia with tomato, and most of us have attempted this at home with almost equally good results!
Chef Luana Vaghegini is a native Radicondolian, having grown up on a local self-sustaining farm. She is now a personal chef and caterer.
We marveled at the efforts Luana put into making her silky Parmesan flan and flawless risotto. These two dishes were perfetto! Luana owned the most heavy duty whisk that we’ve seen! She used it to make an ethereal Parmesan flan that was divine, yet it required strength and stamina to make it that way. Same with the risotto… so much stirring, accomplished with a knowing technique and love. In same the way that the flan was so perfectly smooth, the risotto had the perfect bite, and was dressed with a gorgeous red wine reduction.
Plating the flan with thinly sliced pears, freshly ground pepper, and of course, EVOO.
Preparing the risotto.
Time to eat and celebrate with new friends.
After a long day of cooking (and drinking wine), we pack up to cook another day!
Ready for the next lesson…
Our last night with Il Campo Cucina was spent cooking at Il Bel Canto with Chef Fulvio and his lovely wife, Claudia, from Bologna.
Chef Fulvio shared with us three critical lessons, probably the most important of our cooking time in Tuscany:
This fun and engaging evening was spent learning the art of preparing tortellini. In a friendly competitive atmosphere filled with laughter (and a good deal of wine), we made and rolled the pasta, cut it into squares using a Tagliasfoglia cutter, made the meat filling and rolled it into pea-sized balls, and patiently learned to shape the tortellini by wrapping it around your finger and pressing the edges together.
Chef Fulvio slaps down some store bought tortellini and ask us, “What is this?” We all respond, “tortellini!”. He says, “No, cat food!” Then he proceeds to show us what real tortellini is!
The tortellini were served in brodo and were just delicious.
We had an incredible amount of fun that evening, learning, laughing, talking, eating. There was even a mayonnaise-making competition! And another beautiful sunset to cook by.
At the end of each day’s cooking lesson, we enjoyed sitting down with the chefs and eating our meal together…and usually, it was at a pretty big table! Salute!Read More
Italians traditionally divide a main celebration meal into several different courses. As we reflect on our week at Il Campo Cucina, our experiences were as sumptuous as any fully-coursed Italian celebratory meal. It seems only fitting, then, to follow this menu by sharing the food, wine, people, and beauty of Tuscany, Radicondoli, and Il Campo Cucina, course by course!
The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne, or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.
There are times when the forces of God, nature, and the world align so completely and seamlessly so as to bring people together to create a perfect set of circumstances. That was our week with Il Campo Cucina. The Italians call it “destino.” It was meant to be. From the moment that Marlane Agriesti Miriello pulled an impromptu visit to a thousand-year old grain mill out of thin air, completely off the program, to fill an hour’s time on our way to La Speranza for lunch, we knew we were in for something special. She charmed Giuliano, a man clearly not used to visitors (and especially 9 non-native Italian women) and brought him from a place of skepticism to that of a kindly tour guide, even grinding wheat into flour in his mill for us to see. We had been transported back to an ancient time and were spellbound from that moment, Throughout the week, we got used to Marlane making magic for us at every turn.
No sooner did we arrive at Il Bel Canto, our home for a week in Radicondoli, that we realized this was no ordinary magic. We were surrounded by the palette of beauty and serenity that is the quintessential Tuscan countryside. We had everything we could ask for in our accommodations. Every morning, I jumped out of bed to open the shutter to take in scenery that looked like a live painting, looking out the window often to make sure I didn’t miss a hue or perspective that wasn’t there an hour ago. One morning, there was a vibrant rainbow—how was it that what was already beautiful could be made more so by such a magnificent streak of colors across the sky? We surely had to be in heaven.
Il Bel Canto was so aptly named, because all of the elements in its surroundings created a good song. The trees, grass, sky, the clouds, hills, the village lights in the distance, the olive trees, the lone pomegranate tree, the 16th century stone structures, the vegetable garden, the rooster crowing up the hill–were among the instruments that created this beautiful symphony! Nothing, however, could compare to the magnificent sunsets, that changed as if with a brush stroke, in every next moment. There were chairs set along the ridge just to honor this daily feat of ever-changing beauty with thousands of years of iterations, and the realization was then, that Tuscan’s do not tire of their beautiful surroundings, nor do they take it for granted. Un salute alla vita!
The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats), charcuterie, salami, hams, (mortadella, Parma ham), cheeses, (mozarella, scarmorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), vegetables, cold salmon, are examples of foods eaten.
Anqua. Just saying the word emotes the remembrance of another heavy-duty dose of magic. Anqua is a 16th century castle, built on the ruins of a 12th Century castle in Radicondoli. It still belongs to the same family who originally built it, one of the oldest of Siena. On our first visit, we were entranced by our first glimpse of the enormous grounds and expansive vista, but that almost didn’t compare to entering the magnificent rustic dining room, simply and anciently elegant, complete with roaring hearth fire, where once, all the cooking was done.
We were graciously welcomed by Count Andrea Pannocchieschi d’Elci and friends. Could that beautiful table be set for us? Were we the guests waiting to experience a fabulous wine tasting by Level I Sommelier, Luigi Pizzolato. Could this night be any more special? How had we been able to be immersed so quickly into an Italy that most travelers never get to experience? If we pinched ourselves too hard, would we wake up?
The wine tasting was informative and warmly engaging. Italians are very proud of their wine (and that is an understatement). We tasted San Gimignano Vernaccia and paid much homage to the Sangiovese grape, Luigi’s favorite (and mine). “Know the grape, the farm, and the age” and you know a lot. It was sad to learn that due to the summer’s drought conditions in Italy this year, it would not be a good year for Italian wines.
The jewel of the evening was the magnifico dinner. The jewel of the dinner was the ovuli mushroom. It is more precious than the porcini, and both were at the height of their season. (We often saw cars pulled over at the side of the road, with their occupants in the fields and forests searching for the revered porcini). The ovuli were picked the day before on Anqua’s property. The antipasti of the evening was simply chopped ovuli mushrooms, onion, olive oil and nipotella served on crostini. It was divine.
We were treated to Andrea’s fresh tagliatelle with porcini as the primo. Absolutely heavenly. Il Secondo was thinly sliced pork.
We finished the meal with a dolce: Vin Santo cake. This simple and not too sweet cake is made with Santo Spirito and ground walnuts. These beautiful and tasty courses and more of Andrea’s wine from Anqua’s grapes, and the warm and spirited company and friends of Marlane that we shared this amazing dinner that evening will stand out as one of our most memorable meals–ever. We were special that night, and we knew it
I don’t like change. It is not unusual that most people don’t. But it seems that when I make a change, I do it in a big way.
I have moved, not something I recommend for the faint of heart. Especially not after 20 years. And, 75 miles from my old home. I pushed myself daily to keep moving forward, to do this. Three weeks into the new home, I can say I have have no regrets. It feels like home. It is a new beginning.
There were obstacles, of course. But they are in the past. I have a big one yet facing me. But, when I left work before taking 2 weeks vacation to move, I envisioned a parachute as I thought I might be free falling from a cliff without a net. I know the parachute is out there. Every day, I thought of three things some wise people (yet unknown to themselves) said to me:
I took these pearls out often, marveled at their poignancy and timeliness in my life at the moments they arrived (this all must be happening for a reason for people, some I hardly know, to shine such wisdom at me at the most appropriate moments, causing me to pause in my tracks as I read the words) and I have held them dear while I moved through the struggle to move.
For the first time in a while, I feel happy and at peace. I have some struggles to go. But when you lose the fear, it’s easier to move ahead.
There are two more recent life thoughts shared with me that will continue to drive me forward:
These two are entwined as I can’t do the first without doing the latter. Thanks, SD.
I envision baking in my new kitchen. It will be great fun. It will be a comfort. It will be…everything and anything I want it to be. Biscotti rules. I envision family, brought closer together. Thanks to all for supporting me and believing in me. I envision a glass of wine on the patio. Holidays that are happy. Sharing life. A life to be lived.
And then there is the trip to Il Campo Cucina in Radicondoli…leaving 5 weeks from today. The trip of dreams…cooking in the Tuscan countryside with my sister, my inspiration. Where we go from here is the next dream in the queue.
In the face of what seems like a miserable time for me, there is an awful lot of good going on. I will look back and remember it as a very good year. Sounds like a win to me.
I have leapt with faith that everything will be okay. And life will be good.Read More