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Archive for October, 2010

Birthday Surprises

I have had a wonderful birthday today. From breakfast in bed to flowers and homemade cards, today has really been special.

PA280909 I was called to the office first thing this morning and in the three minutes I was away, the room mums came in, decorated the class with streamers, lit birthday candles and had a birthday chair and cupcake tower ready for me. As I walked into the classroom, everyone started singing. The kids really got a kick out of “tricking me into the office!”

PA280919 I got a kick out of tricking them into eating worms and dirt cake.

Being a teacher is the best job in the world. I wish every human being could feel the overwhelming love and excitement that spills over from little kids on a teacher’s birthday.

It really is the best feeling.

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Make Your Own Dirt Cake!

My face hurts from smiling all day!

Thank you to everyone who helped make today so special.

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You know when you hear “Italy” and your mind starts pulling up a jumble of pictures of pasta, gondolas, pizzas and the coliseum? In my mind, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has always popped up as well.

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Although I travelled all over Italy when I was 18, we didn’t stop in the famous city of Pisa. Again, when Sebastian and visited Italy two years ago, Pisa wasn’t on our agenda.

PA230846 This time around, I made the visit, albeit a very short visit, a visit nonetheless.

PA230868 I left Perugia yesterday morning and took a train to Florence before changing over onto another train to Pisa. As luck would have it, I sat across from a fascinating 71 year old Italian gentleman who was certainly not shy and had a lifetime of stories to share.

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The two and a half hour train ride was so enjoyable. He told me about his family, growing up in Sicily with 9 siblings. He talked about his travels and the interesting people he’s met along the way. His opinions on immigration, the EU, buying property, the mafia and how non-Italians cook pasta were also discussed.

PA230852 I got a bit carried away taking pictures of other tourists taking pictures. These three were especially fun to watch!

One bit of advice this wise old man gave for Pisa was to climb over the railing beneath the tower, lay on the grass (until the security guards yell to get off,) and watch the clouds move behind the leaning tower. He said it would look like the tower was falling over.

PA230859Every time he goes to Pisa, he said he still does this.

I believe him too.

The smile on his face and the way his eyes lit up spoke the truth.

PA230862 He was right, too. (Although I didn’t have the courage to trespass on the grass.) Standing beneath the tower and looking up at the moving clouds, it really did look like the tower was about to tumble over after 700 years.

PA230863 After getting a good chuckle out of imagining this old man being chased off the grass by security guards, I wandered through the streets of Pisa.

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And I had my one and only gelato before heading back to the airport. PA230892

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I can’t believe it’s all over. I have had such a great week and although I’m excited to get back to Sebastian, I’m sad to be leaving tomorrow.

PA200549 No words can describe how fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to come to Italy for a week, cook amazing food, stay in a fantastic apartment and spend my days with two new-found friends.

I am blessed beyond my own understanding!

PA220819 For our final cooking class we prepaerd stuffed tomatoes and zucchini, homemade tagliatelle with a pumpkin sauce, breaded fish cutlets, a mixed salad and lemon poppy seed cake.

We also had wine. Lots and lots of wine. Hey, it might have only been noon but it was our last day together in Italy, what do you expect?

Stuffed Tomatoes and Zucchini

PA220790 Although I’ve stuffed tomatoes many times before, I’ve never used bread crumbs. This way was much more crunchy.

Ingredients

  • 4 tomatoes
  • 4 zucchini
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 6 Tbsp. bread crumbs
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Prepare the tomatoes by cutting them in half width-wise and scooping out the seeds. Reserve the seeds in a small bowl.
  2. Prepare the zucchini by cutting out and discarding the seeds and spongy bits. Place the zucchini and tomatoes on a baking dish and sprinkle with salt.
  3. To make the filling, smash the tomato seeds with a fork to break up and then mix in the parsley, garlic, bread crumbs and enough olive oil to make a slightly moist mixture.
  4. Fill the tomatoes and zucchini creating a flat top which covers the entire top of the vegetables.
  5. Bake in a hot oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the stuffing is golden brown.

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Pumpkin Sauce

PA220791 I knew I’d love this sauce from the first mention of it’s name. Eating pasta with a pumpkin sauce was a nice change. It was savory, rich and absolutely delicious! I will certainly make it again!

Ingredients

  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 800 grams pumpkin, seeds and skin removed, chopped into tiny cubes
  • 8 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • wild fennel leaves
  • 3 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 handfuls fresh grated parmesan
  • water

Method

  1. Coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with olive oil and fry the sliced shallots until they soften, stirring constantly.
  2. Add in the pumpkin, 1 Tbsp. chopped fennel leaves, 2 fennel stalks, a generous pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Cook 10 minutes over medium high heat, stirring and tossing frequently. Add water as needed to keep the sauce moist and prevent the vegetables from sticking.
  3. Add the tomatoes and toss to incorporate.
  4. Dry toast the pine nuts until golden brown then add them to the sauce.
  5. Stir in 2 handfuls of parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

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Homemade Tagliatelle

PA220782 Rolling out pasta by hand it hard work but the reward is worth it! I can’t wait to make pasta at home. I’ll have to invest in a long rolling pin, Stefania said my wine-bottle-rolling-pin method just won’t do.

Ingredients

For 2-4 servings.

  • 200 g. all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • good pinch of salt
  • drizzle of olive oil

Method

  1. Create a large circular well in the flour which goes all the way down to the cooking surface. Crack the eggs inside the well and add the salt and a little olive oil.
  2. Using a fork, begin to whisk the eggs pulling in flour from the side as you go. Keep the well sturdy and continue pulling in flour. Continue to whisk in the flour until you have only a small well-wall left.
  3. Begin to knead in the remaining flour with your finger tips. Work gently at first and then, as the dough starts to harden, knead regularly.
  4. The dough will be quite dry. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes or until your dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Make a ball with the ugly sides under and then squeeze out your dough until it is like a thick pancake. Dust your working table very lightly and dust the top of your ball of dough.
  6. Using a rolling pin, start in the center and push all your weight into a back and forth motion until you reach the ends. Rotate the dough 45 degrees and then repeat.
  7. Keep rolling out the dough and when it becomes too big, have a friend hold down the ends for you or simply fold some of the dough over the edge of the table and lightly lean on it. Roll until your dough is about 2 mm thick.
  8. Fold in two inches of the ends of your dough on both sides. Dust with flour then fold over again on both sides. Dust and repeat until you reach the middle. Fold the two ends on top of one another.
  9. Using a sharp knife, cut straight down through your pasta to create a uniform width of about 1/2 cm. Keep slicing without moving your already cut pasta.
  10. Grab a hold of the first layer of pasta and shake out to separate the strands and remove excess flour. Pile up.
  11. Cook your pasta in a pot of boiling water which is very well salted (as in one whole handful of salt.) When you add the pasta the water will stop boiling. Once it begins to boil again, your pasta is cooked.
  12. Remove the pasta from the water and add directly into your prepared sauce. You may need to add a little more pasta water.
  13. Serve your pasta with more parmesan, salt and pepper.

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Breaded Fish Cutlets

PA220806 This is such a fast dish to make. The fish was incredibly moist and flaky inside. I’ll be doing this one at home too.

Ingredients

  • 1 large fish fillet (4 servings worth) we used a fish from the local lake but perch or another soft white fish would also work well
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • lemon wedge

Method

  1. Cut your fish into medium sized pieces with scissors.
  2. Prepare your breading station, 1 bowl with flour, 1 bowl with the egg, 1 bowl with the bread crumbs and parsley.
  3. Coat the fish with flour then dip into the egg and cover well. Drip off the extra egg and then place in the bread crumbs and coat well. Repeat with all fish pieces.
  4. Fill the bottom of a skillet with olive oil, about a pinky-width deep. Heat the oil over medium high heat until it is hot. Fry the fish until golden brown on both sides.
  5. Remove fish from oil and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
  6. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the cutlets. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

PA220810 I love lemon poppy seed anything but as far as the cake goes, I like my mom’s version better. This cake wasn’t lemony enough for my taste and was too dry to eat alone.

Ingredients

  • 125 g. butter, melted in a double boiler
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 150 g. sugar
  • 180 g. flour
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1.5 lemons
  • 8 g. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
  • powdered sugar

Method

  1. Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and eggs until it has doubled in size. Sift in a little flour at a time while continuing to mix.
  2. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, baking powder and butter- mixing the whole time. Incorporate the poppy seeds.
  3. Butter and dust a bunt pan. Spread the batter evenly inside and bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
  4. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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If anyone is interested in coming to Italy for cooking classes, I would highly recommend Let’s Cook in Umbria. The classes are small and personalized. I learned so much over the four cooking classes and would stay if given the opportunity! You can also come for 1 day classes if you’re just passing through the area!

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I woke up this morning to another beautiful view in Umbria.

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I was a little sore due to the intense yoga class last night.

I have never been to a class where the moves aren’t choreographed to music and the instructor isn’t wearing the latest fitness fashion.

The class last night was two hours of intense breathing and movements. Real yoga. I found some movements difficult but the teacher was very good at giving a helping hand.

There were about 9 other students of all ages, genders and gestational periods. (The pregnant couple was especially delightful to watch.) After the course, we were all invited to stay for dinner.

I can honestly say that last night was one of those, “I can’t believe this is my life,” kind of moments. I sat around a table with a master yogi and students from all different walks of life in a small, fire-heated room around a large table in Italy enjoying a delicious homemade Indian meal. It was wonderful. Everyone was very friendly and did their best to communicate with me. I can’t wait to go back for another lesson on Friday.

This morning I woke up still stuffed but ready for another cooking class.

On the menu for today we had two different bruschettas, artichoke rissoto, vegetable gratin and chocolate pear cake.

Yummy!

Bruschetta with Tomatoes

PA210627 I found out I’ve been doing this all wrong according to traditional Italian cooking. When we asked about the balsamic vinegar, Stefania laughed at us. We were told we could add garlic, cheese, onions, even whole peppercorns if we wanted, but not vinegar!

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 handful fresh basil, torn
  • olive oil to generously coat
  • sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
  • Toasted bread

Method

  1. Toss together the tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Put on top of toasted bread and enjoy!

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Bruschetta with Spicy Fresh Cheese

PA210625 I’ll certainly make this one to bring along to parties. Make it ahead as the flavor will only improve with a little more time.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup fresh cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves
  • dried chili peppers, to taste, chopped (this should be very spicy)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted Bread

Method

  1. Soften the cream cheese with the back of a spoon until it’s smooth. Add in the garlic, marjoram, chili peppers, salt and pepper and mix well.
  2. Serve on top of toasted bread

PA210624 To toast the bread, she used a very practical pan which fit over the flame of the stove. Especially in Umbria, it is common to even cook a pizza-like dish on this pan.

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Artichoke Risotto

PA210664 This was divine. Although preparing the artichokes took a lot of time and it wasn’t the easiest dish to toss together, it was all worth it. The taste was incredible.

Ingredients

For the Stock- “Never. Use. Cubes. Never. They will make a disaster!”

  • 1 tomato, cut in half
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced in thick chunks
  • 1 stalk celery
  • generous amount of salt
  • water

For the risotto

  • 4 artichokes
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 cups risotto rice
  • 2 handfuls fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 handfuls grated fresh parmesan cheese

Method

For the stock

  1. Place all vegetables in a large sauce pan and fill with water. Salt generously and put on medium high heat for at least 30 minutes to create a good quality stock.
  2. In Italy, stock cubes will ruin a meal. I’m afraid to even say the words “stock cubes” in Italy now. Do not use them. Ever. Just take 1/2 an hour and make your stock.

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Prepare the artichokes

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  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze 1/2 a lemon into it. Drop the lemon in the water as well. This will help prevent the cut artichokes from becoming black.
  2. Cut off the bottom of the artichoke stalk leaving about 2 cm.
  3. Peel off the outside leaves until you reach the soft inner leaves. It will feel like you’re throwing away more than half of the artichoke, but that’s just the way it is. Keep peeling.
  4. Cut off the top of the artichoke leaves, just above the natural groove.
  5. Quarter the artichoke heart and place in the lemon water.
  6. One quarter at a time, cut out and discard the hairs which are inside the artichoke. slice the artichoke into thin slices length-wise. Return slices to the lemon water.

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Put it all together

  1. Heat a large sauce pan over high heat. Coat the bottom with a generous amount of olive oil and add the chopped shallots along with a half ladle of stock. After a moment, add the drained artichokes and season with salt. Continue to cook until the artichokes are soft, stirring constantly.
  2. Add the rice and toast until it begins to turn golden brown. Add two ladles of stock. Do not stop stirring!
  3. Cook the liquid down and add another 1-2 ladles of stock, stirring the whole time to cook the liquid down.
  4. Add a handful of fresh parsley, more stock and repeat the stir, cook down procedure. Continue this process until the rice is al dente. Don’t worry about the measurement of liquid. You want the rice to cook and the mixture to become creamy.
  5. Remove the rice from the heat and stir in 3 Tbsp of butter and a handful of grated parmesan cheese. Stir to melt.
  6. Plate the risotto, dressing with another handful of parmesan, parsley and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Let the risotto rest for a few minutes before eating.

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Potato and Zucchini Layered Bake

PA210665 A late autumn affair. Perfect for using up the garden remains and settling in to the warmer food of winter.

Ingredients

  • 4 zucchinis, cut in small cubes
  • 5 potatoes
  • 1/2 large white onion, sliced thinly in half-circles
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • taleggio cheese, cubed (or another sweet, soft, fatty cheese like brie)

Method

  1. Boil your potatoes, skin on, for about 15 minutes or until cooked but still slightly dense in the middle. Cool for a little while then pull off the skins. Slice into thin circles.
  2. Coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with olive oil and fry the onions for a moment. Add the zucchini and flavor with salt and pepper. Continue to fry until the vegetables are soft then remove from heat.
  3. Rub olive oil into the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Place a layer of potatoes (using about half) in the bottom. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Top the potato layer with all the onions and zucchini. Spread the mixture evenly. Evenly distribute the cheese cubes over the zucchini mixture.
  5. Top the cheese with another layer of carefully arranged potato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil. Gently massage the olive oil into the potato layer.
  6. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 40-45 minutes.

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Chocolate Pear Cake

PA210652 I still have this to eat. I was so full by this point that I only took a couple of bites. Let me tell you, this cake is so moist it’s almost fudgy. It’s not too sweet and is really quite light.

Ingredients

  • 80 grams room temperature butter
  • 70 grams sugar
  • 2 room temperature eggs, yolk and white separated
  • 1 cup milk plus more as needed
  • 140 grams flour
  • 80 grams coco powder
  • 16 grams baking powder
  • 4 hard pears, peeled, cored and chopped into cubes
  • powdered sugar

Method

  1. Soften the butter using the back of a spoon until it becomes soft and silky. Beat the sugar and butter together until creamy using an electric mixer.
  2. Beat in one yolk at a time to the butter mixture. Repeat with the second yolk.
  3. Sift together the dry ingredients, flour, coco powder and baking powder.
  4. Place half of the dry mixture and half of the milk into the butter mixture. Beat together. Repeat with the remaining dry mixture and milk, adding more milk if needed to reach a thick batter.
  5. Make a meringue with the 2 egg whites and a bit of sugar. Stir half of the meringue into the batter.
  6. Carefully fold the remaining meringue into the batter.
  7. Pour the batter over your pears and mix to combine.
  8. Wet a piece of parchment paper and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Shape the paper into a spring-form pan and place the cake batter inside. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 1 hour.
  9. Remove from the oven, cool and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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PA210649 I think this will be my midnight snack!

It was another great day of cooking and eating in Italy.

After taking a nap this afternoon, we went to a wonderful winery… but that will have to wait for another post!

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Sweet pepper bruschetta, gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce, pork loin in a grape gravy and crostata tart were on the menu for today’s lunch.

The cooking started at 9:30 this morning and by 1:00, I couldn’t move.

The instructor is a genius at organizing what needs to be done when to put an entire meal together at just the right time.

Again, her resounding words for today were, “Italians like it simple. Good produce, few ingredients, not too much time. It’s easy!”

Sweet Pepper Bruschetta

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This appetizer had a wonderfully strong flavor. Great combination.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sweet green peppers (look like jalapeños) , sliced in rings with the seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 anchovies
  • 2-4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • water as needed to retain moisture
  • big pinch of salt
  • day-old bread, sliced thinly
  • breadcrumbs

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the sliced garlic and cook for a minute. Add the anchovies and smash them into the hot oil until they melt and disintegrate.
  2. Put the prepared peppers and salt into the pan and continue to cook, adding water as necessary to keep the mixture moist. Cook for about 7 minutes then pour in the vinegar and continue to cook until the peppers are soft.
  3. Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil and place about 3 slices of bread on top. Spread the pepper mixture on the bread and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake in a hot oven for about 10-15 minutes.

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Gnocchi

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I have always loved gnocchi, but that love was unfounded. The love I have for this recipe is the real deal. These gnocchi were like smooth little pillows in my mouth. Indescribable, really.

Ingredients

  • 1 large, old potato per person
  • all-purpose flour in the proportion 1/3 of amount of potatoes
  • salt

Method

  1. Boil your potatoes with the skin on. Once the skin splits open, you know the potatoes are done. You want them to be soft but not soaking up the water.
  2. Pull the skin off of the potatoes and smash with a potato press. Spread the potatoes out on a wooden board and allow to cool completely before moving on.
  3. Eyeball the flour using about 1/3 the amount of flour as you have potatoes.
  4. Very gently knead the potatoes and flour together, being very careful not to smash the mixture or stretch it out. The method is a gentle, push in from the sides kind of knead.
  5. Once the dough is in a compact ball, cut off a small handful of dough and roll into a long snake, about the width of your finger.
  6. Cut the gnocchi with a sharp, non-serrated knife about the width of your thumb. Roll the little pieces in flour and set aside, not allowing the pieces to touch one another.
  7. Continue rolling, cutting, dusting and setting aside until all the dough is prepared.
  8. Boil a pot of water and add a small handful of salt. Yes, a handful.
  9. Drop the gnocchi in the boiling water and wait a few minutes for the pasta to rise to the top. Using a wire mesh slotted spoon, pull out the floating gnocchi and put directly into prepared tomato sauce.

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Garlic Tomato Sauce

PA200537 This is the simplest and the best tasting tomato sauce I’ve ever eaten. Why do we make things so complicated?

I’m starting to see that less is more.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • lots of olive oil
  • lots of salt
  • fresh basil
  • 2 handfuls fresh grated parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Cook the tomatoes in a large sauce pan over medium heat for 15 minutes.
  2. Strain the tomatoes, skin, seeds and all in a tomato crusher gadget with a crank handle. The sauce will drip out below.
  3. Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato sauce and a huge pinch of salt.
  4. Reduce the heat, put a wooden spoon across he pan and set the lid on top. Keeping the lid cracked allows the sauce to condense more slowly, creating a better flavor. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in a handful of parmesan cheese.
  5. Add the gnocchi and toss to cover. Do not stir the gnocchi or it will break! Rip up a handful of fresh basil and toss in as well.
  6. Plate the pasta and sprinkle with even more parmesan.

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Pork Loin with Grapes

PA200540 Although I didn’t eat this one, it was interesting to see how it was made. The smell was fantastic. I did taste the grape sauce and it was superb. If you eat meat, certainly give this one a try.

Ingredients

  • 1 pork loin
  • cooking twine
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 juniper pods
  • 3 bay leaves, torn
  • olive oil
  • 4 shallots, quartered and pulled apart
  • 2-3 cups green grapes, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, divided

Method

  1. Tightly wrap the loin with twine. Sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt and fresh black pepper over the entire loin. Drizzle with olive oil and massage the meat. The instructor said not to be afraid of salt, pork absorbs what it needs and leaves the rest.
  2. Coat the bottom of a wide sauce pan with olive oil. Heat over high heat and add the shallots, crushed juniper, bay leaves and 1/4 cup white wine. Cook until the alcohol has evaporated, constantly moving the shallots.
  3. Add the loin to the pan and braise until the meat is sealed on all sides, do not brown. Add another 1/4 cup of white wine and cook the mixture down.
  4. Add the grapes, reduce the heat to medium low and cover to cook. Use the wooden spoon trick again, propping the lid open a bit allowing steam to release.
  5. Make sure the mixture remains moist. If it starts to dry, either smash the grapes or add a bit of water.
  6. Continue to cook on the stove top for 40-45 minutes, turning the meat regularly, allowing it to brown and stirring the sauce.
  7. Wrap the cooked meat in aluminum foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes.
  8. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. Pour the remaining ingredients into the same contraption used to smash the tomatoes. Crank the ingredients through and serve with the sliced pork.

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Since I don’t eat meat, I was served an extra dish of baked smoked mozzarella with bread and olive oil.

PA200539 A radicchio salad dressed with balsamic and olive oil was also served.

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Jam Crostata

PA200546 This is a beautiful, rustic looking desert that was simple to make and tasted fantastic.

Ingredients

  • 250 g. all-purpose flour
  • 80 g. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 100 g. very cold butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 jar of jam, we used pear
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Mix together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the butter to the mixture. Working very quickly and with cold hands, begin at one edge of the bowl and work your way across crushing the butter and flour mixture together with your finger tips.
  2. Lightly whisk the egg and yolk together and our into the mixture.
  3. Use the side of the bowl to knead the egg into the mixture. Compact the mixture into a very tight ball and cover with plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Take a large piece of parchment paper and lightly dust it. Cut off 2/3 of the dough and put in the middle of the paper, dust the ball with flour and cover with two pieces of plastic wrap.
  5. Working from the middle out, roll the dough until it is larger than your pastry dish. Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough, parchment paper and all, into your tart dish. Push the dough into the dish and cut off the remaining edges.
  6. Spread your jam evenly into the dish, making sure to get every little groove covered with jam.
  7. Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Cut the dough into 1 inch side strips and lay three strips across your pastry. Lay another 3 strips the other direction creating a tic-tac-toe design.
  8. Cut another strip of pastry and begin to pinch it around the edge of your pastry. Continue your way around until there is a lovely border of pastry around the whole dish.
  9. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20-25 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool. Before serving, dust the pastry with powdered sugar.

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Even though I ate 7 hours ago, I still feel stuffed. Hopefully a little yoga will help.

I asked the owner of where I’m staying if there is any place to do yoga near by. I thought it was a long shot as this place is in the middle of nowhere, but it just so happens that there’s a studio at the bottom of the hill. I walked down this afternoon and met not only a yoga teacher, but a master Yogi from India.

We enjoyed a cup of chai tea together and had a really nice chat. He invited me back for a lesson between 8-10 tonight and then to stay for dinner as well with the other students.

I’m excited but also a bit nervous since I’ve never done “real” yoga before. I’ll let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!

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The first cooking class at Let’s Cook in Umbria was everything I had hoped for.

PA190482 If there is an adjective which surpasses stuffed, I’m that right now.

Tonight I met a lovely Australian couple as well as our instructor.

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We made a delicious pear and brie salad, three pizzas and tiramisu. All dishes were served with wine and spirits from the owner’s vineyard which is mere steps from my doorstep.

Although we’ll get a copy of the recipes at the end, I wanted to write down and organize my photos one day at a time. If I find any discrepancies between my memory and the real recipe, I’ll update them later.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Wild Greens with Pear, Brie and Walnuts

PA190480 Ingredients

  • Fresh mixed greens
  • 2 pears, sliced thinly
  • Brie, sliced thinly
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • large handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped

Method

  1. Drizzle the greens with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Gently massage. Flavor with salt and pepper.
  2. Dress the salad with the cheese and pears. Sprinkle walnuts over top and serve.

Pizza Dough

PA190458 As the instructor said, “Don’t mess with pizza dough. Simple is best.”

PA190438 Ingredients

  • about 1/2 bag all purpose flour (500 grams)
  • 1 block fresh yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • 1 large pinch salt

Method

  1. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. Feed the yeast with the sugar.
  2. Pour the dissolved yeast into the flour and salt and work in with your hands, adding more water as necessary to form a good dough.
  3. Be careful not to use too much water, but if it happens, just add more flour!
  4. Turn out onto a floured surface and kneed for a few minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic.
  5. Place in a dusted bowl, cut an “X” in the ball of dough, cover with a dish towel and let rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
  6. The instructor says the longer the rise, the better. She even makes the dough the day before and completes the rise and knead cycle up to 7 times.
  7. Once you’re done rising and kneading, cut the dough into 3 even balls, roll out and continue to top your pizza.

Pizza with Red Onions and Sage

This was my favorite pizza of all three. Who would have thought I’d like a pizza with no cheese so much!

PA190465 Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough
  • 3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful fresh sage, chopped
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Top your prepared dough with the onions. No need to keep an uncovered crust!
  2. Drizzle heavily with olive oil. Sprinkle the sage, salt and pepper on top and bake in a hot oven just until the edges of the dough begin to turn golden.

Pizza with Radicchio and Mozzarella

I was most surprised by this pizza. I really dislike how bitter radicchio is and never by it. After eating this pizza, my hope for this bitter leaf vegetable is renewed.

PA190483Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough
  • 1 head radicchio, chopped
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, torn
  • 1 ball smoked mozzarella, cubed
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Layer the pizza dough with the cheeses and then top with the chopped radicchio.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a hot oven until the crust is golden brown.

Pizza Margarita

This classic was prepared for us while we ate the other pizzas so I don’t have a finished product photograph. You’ll have to take my word that it was as beautiful as it was delicious!

PA190454 Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • big pinch of salt
  • sprinkle of sugar
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, torn

Method

  1. Mix together the tomato sauce, oregano, olive oil, sugar and salt to create a sauce.
  2. Spread a thin layer of pizza sauce over the prepared dough. Distribute the mozzarella evenly over the pizza.
  3. Bake in a hot oven until the edge turns golden brown.

Tiramisu

I had no idea tiramisu was so easy… or that there were raw eggs in it.

PA190450 Ingredients

  • 1 package mascarpone (200 grams)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • Italian sugar biscuits, not to be confused with lady fingers!
  • fresh espresso
  • coco powder

Method

  1. Separate the egg yolks and whites.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the egg yolks with 2 Tbsp. of sugar until the yolks turn white and fluffy. Again, using the mixture ever so briefly, combine the yolk fluff with the mascarpone and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, use the electric mixture to beat the egg whites and 1/2 Tbsp. of sugar until it begins to stiffen. You don’t want stiff peaks like in a meringue, stop just before it reaches that point.
  4. Mix in about 1/3 of the egg white mixture with the egg yolk mixture. This will allow the two different consistencies to become more similar.
  5. Gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture. Your cream is now finished.
  6. We made 3 individual servings out of the recipe. Place 1 scoop of the cream in the bottom of each bowl.
  7. The biscuits we used were similar to lady fingers but not as thick, fluffy or soft. These were hard, thin and brittle. Dip 1 biscuit in the cooled espresso at a time, layering on top of the cream. Repeat cream, espresso biscuit layer 1 more time, finishing off with a layer of cream.
  8. Sprinkle with the coco powder and refrigerate between 1-4 hours before serving.

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The entire dinner was divine. The company made it even better!

I can’t wait to start it all over again tomorrow morning when we will be learning how to make tagliatelle pasta and pork with grapes for the meat eaters.

In the afternoon, I hope to go truffle hunting!

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Buongiorno, Italia

Buongiorno, Italia!

PA180330 My great Italian adventure is off to a fantastic start!PA180326 

I arrived in Pisa Sunday night and was picked up by the couch surfing couple I stayed with. If you have never tried couchsurfing before, you should. Not only does it help you get to know locals, learn the inside scoop on travel destinations and save a ton of money, couchsurfing renews trust in the decency of strangers.

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The couple I stayed with were so hospitable. We had a nice evening chatting over tea before turning in for the night. In the morning they fed me and helped me find appropriate trains to get to Perugia.

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Before coming to Perugia, I made a very important stop in Florence.

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In most main train stations in Europe, you can check your bag into a storage unit. This is such a great service as it allows you to travel between travels and not be weighed down by heavy luggage.

PA180314 In the main train station in Florence, you can check a bag for 4 Euros for the first 5 hours. Just be sure to keep your baggage claim slip safe!

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I was only in Florence for 1.5 hours but in that time, I was able to see the Cathedral, have a quick lunch, grab an espresso and wonder around for a bit before catching my next train.

PA180340 Lunch was a roasted vegetable panini.

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The train between Florence and Perugia took two and a half hours. Since it was a regional train, we traveled between many old villages and beautiful landscapes.

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I arrived in Perugia around half past two then caught a taxi to the cooking school.

PA180359 La Volpe e l’uva is beautiful.

Situated on a hill top, overlooking a lovely valley, I’m happy to call this home for the next few days.

PA180356 My first class is tonight. I’ll make notes and take photos and tell you all about it tomorrow!

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