December 31, 2009

Out with the Old- Welcome 2010

Buon Anno Nuovo- Happy New Year

Looking forward to a fabulous 2010

This year has been one of change and 2010 is one of new beginnings.
Looking forward to seeing you in Tuscany or in Sicily this year
for my new weeklong programs.

fotos above- left to right: top to bottom

Me in Pompeii on PR trip to Naples: Self published my book; Stuffed Rigatoni from Gragnano; Andrea, my Leone!
Monday at the Market tours; Day trip to La Petraia; Roasted Tuscan Beans; Filming with Gary Rhodes
Boiled beef sandwiches at Nerbone; Deep snow had us snow-bound for 3 days; Barrel tasting at Luia; Olive harvest

2010 starts off with a bang as I am teaching at the lovely Rancho Casa Luna in San Miguel D'Allende for a week. Then I am visiting with my friend Ruth in Mexico City and catching up with Ricardo Munoz Zurita one of my favorite chefs and meeting some new friends thanks to Ruth.

February Andrea and I head down to Sicily to arrange where I will be holding my Sicily programs in June and September this year. We will do another coast to coast tour, starting in Palermo and ending in Catania. This year will visit Agrigento and Licata, which are the only two major places we haven't been.

April I am heading to Portland for the IACP conference and will teach at Robert Reynolds Chef's Studio and then head down to Seattle to do some classes too. ( Dates to be announced)

My new week-long programs at Villa La Poggiolaia are from April through November, so that will keep me busy.

May 2010 be good to all of us!

Everyone should try being Italian at least once a year!
Hope that 2010 is that year-
Cin Cin

December 24, 2009

Pigging Out for the Holidays -

This so reminds me of the first Christmas Eve dinner I attended when Andrea and I started dating. It was at a friends home and they had done most of the cooking, but everyone brought a dessert. I had only been living in Italy for a year and never been to a traditional Easter or Christmas Italian food orgy. Never say never. I knew were were going to be eating a multi-course meal, so decided to not eat before to save room for tasting everything. BIG MISTAKE!

One must go into training to consume even the smallest amount of each course to keep up. I did my best, but after the smoked salmon appetizer with champagne and the tortellini in broth I was actually feeling rather full. Then the fish course came out, a whole poached fish with Insalata Russa, a boiled vegetable salad, with almost more mayo than veggies followed by a whole roasted fish served with roasted vegetables.

The table was cleared and a  huge roast beast as my sister would say, covered in a porcini mushroom sauce, swimming in olive oil was the next "main course". This is where I lost my cookies and had to say "Uncle".

I had hit my food wall. I was down for the count. Laying down in the living room I could still see the food orgy continuing in the next room. Since this group of friends where also hunters, after the starters, the real food came out. Tray after tray of game- wild boar, hare, quail,duck,pigeon and more!

Needless to say, I didn't taste any of the desserts either- and that was my LAST huge Christmas dinner.

This year, Andrea are celebrating 24 years together and 19 years of being married.
I received the best Xmas present, my Carta D'identita', my Italian ID card and permanent residency. I have always had my own independent work permit and always had to renew my visa to stay here. It allowed me to work for myself and the space I rented in Florence to teach out of was for non- residents. Closing the school, freed me to then apply for the permanent residency which also allows me to work like an Italian, for someone else too.

So starting a new program out in the beautiful countryside where I live in Certaldo.
I have just redone my website to show off the new programs I am offering.

I wish you all a fabulous 2010- I am so glad to see 2009 over!

Out with the old- in with the new  never sounded better!

December 19, 2009

Sicilian Christmas Cookies

Whenever we go on a trip, I always have to search out traditional desserts, in my first trip to Sicily in 2005 for the holidays I found quite a few I loved. This cookie is made all over Sicily in different versions. Shaped like a ravioli, or the smaller cookies shown here, tube like and sliced on top. I have also seen them with large slices and fanned open which is pretty too.

Some families make then closed with a creamy white sugar glaze on top, looking quite festive with the colored sprinkles on top.

In Palermo, it was called Buccellato, most people I know call it Cuccidati ( with some odd-spelling versions) and at lunch yesterday I heard another name, which I forget now, from Southern Sicily near Gela. Whatever you call them, everyone knows that their version is the best.

In Palermo is where we found the most ornate decorations. There is a tradition of decorating dough on the west coast of Sicily. I tried to repeat the lacy look on the larger ring version I made,
perhaps since this dough is different than the original recipe I had, it didn't hold the decoration as well.

Thanks to twitter, I used a new recipe for me, from an Italian American chef.

Here is his recipe although if you read through the recipe, the foto shown is not how the recipe says to make the cookie. I like the icing finish on the cookies, as he shows them it looks quite festive.

Of course, when I went to make the recipe, I was missing a few ingredients.
But since the Sicilian recipe I had was a little different than his, I knew I could switch.

I used dried white figs,raisins, pine nuts, fresh orange rind and honey with some hot water.
I cut the figs into smaller pieces and then heated the mixture on the stove.
I have a Tuscan spice mixture which has ginger, coriander, nutmeg and cinnamon- and added a touch of black pepper.

I pureed the fruit and let cool.

I used his recipe for the dough, although Italian flour "00" is different, it worked perfectly!

The original dough recipe I had is a very "poor" recipe, no eggs no cream.

I like these so much I will make again and post the other shapes!

Buon Natale!

I am getting ready for my Tuscan Week in San Miguel D'Allende at the Rancho Casa Luna in January. Here is information on the week-long program, for locals, day classes are available.

December 13, 2009

Menu for Hope 6- the gifts that keep on giving

Every year Chez Pim with the help of bloggers all over the world, runs the Menu for Hope.
It is a win-win situation, by participating in the auction of items donated, we raise money for a United Nations Project. This year, we are supporting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P).  P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation.  P4P helps farmers improves farming practices and puts more cash directly into their pockets in return for their crops.  This will also help buoy local economy by creating jobs and income locally.  We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world.

Anyone – and that means you too - can buy raffle tickets to bid on these items. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on the item of their choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

Here is the list of prizes and an easy way to bid on them- all in one place! For details on the prizes you can click on details and see who offered the prize and visit their sites.

Divina Cucina's: Monday at the Market Tour in Florence
Bid Item code EU24

Value 250 euro

“ Spend more time shopping and less time cooking” is my mantra from my mother-in-law,
Tina. She taught me the way to shop and cook like a Tuscan. Her secrets and those I learned
from my purveyors at the market have made me the cook I am today! Bonding with your
butcher makes a better meal than hours in the kitchen. The right cut of beef,the perfect
ingredients, are the secrets to good food.
Join me on an in depth tour and tasting at the market, followed by lunch. We will explore the
fabulous San Lorenzo Market, open since 1870’s, one of Italy’s largest indoor markets. I have
shopped here almost daily since 1988 and it is my second-home. 

Tastings include :
From my Vegetable vendor:
Traditional Balsamic vinegars, 12,15,20 and 30 years old, truffle honey, olive oils from several
regions, vin santo with biscotti and incredible dried fruits.
From my cheese purveyors: parmesan cheeses from different producers and ages, salami’s and
My favorite wine bar in the market will fix us a tasting plate of Sicilian specialties, not easily
found in Tuscany.
Coffee? To keep up our energy, I will explain the when, where, how and why of coffee
customs in Italy.
Perhaps with a pastry tasting on the way? Perche non?
Bring a camera! It is incredibly beautiful. 

Tours are on Mondays: We meet at 11am and until around 3pm.
Also includes lunch and we will also go to some of my favorite shops around the market.

My tours have been includes in Susan Van Allens "100 Places Every Woman Should Go"

To see all the items up for "auction"
Here is the list from the European bloggers from Davids Lebovitz's blog.
West Coast Bloggers from Shauna of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here's what you need to do:
1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list.
2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.
3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Grazie Mille- 
Enjoy the holiday season

December 12, 2009

Sweet Dreams- Xmas cookies

From my house to yours- happy holidays

It is that time of year when everyone starts baking cookies and getting ready for the holidays- here are some past recipes to bring a little Italy to our holiday table!

Buon Appetito e Buon Natale

Virtual Cookie Swap - Sienese Almond Cookies, Ricciarelli
Hot Chocolate- Italian style!  Thick and thicker!
Sweet Fig Salami Great with cheese after dinner
Fig and Walnut Panforte-  Faster to make than the fig salami
Chocolate Chunk "biscotti" A twist on a classic-
Sicilian Sesame cookies - a dry cookie, serve with a sherry or dry marsala
Nutella Fried Ravioli - one of my favorites for kids!
Rice Fritters- This is great all year- but serve warm!
 and from my website where there are tons of recipes
Panforte the fabulous honey and dried fruit dessert from Siena ( don't call it fruitcake!)
Almond- Cornmeal Cake
Chocolate Salami
Sicilian Fig-filled Cucidati

December 10, 2009

Good Grappa is a Wonderful Thing

It is not only Americans that think that drinking grappa is like drinking lighter fluid; even my Italian husband is not a great fan of grappa, until he tried the grappa I was sent as part of a tasting panel.

I was asked try to participate by my friend at Studio Cru. How did he know? I adore great grappa!

What was even better is that we were asked to pick which grappa we would like to try. Having been in Sicily last year, I saw that they had a grappa from one of the wines I really liked, Catarrato- so agreed to try.

The Brunello Distillery has been making grappa; Acqua Vitæ- water of life, since 1840. They obviously know what they are doing.

Grappa is a by-product of wine making. The pomace (seeds and skins) are distilled in large copper tanks. It is high in alcohol, the one I tasted was 41%. Great after dinner.

When I was younger, I used to blend grappa with a sweet liquore, I used Amaretto and called it "perfetto". The grappa was too strong for me and the Amaretto too sweet.

Living in Italy, I now adore grappa- but will only drink what I call REAL grappa. I love when you can taste the fruit in the grappa and not just a burning sensation.

The Brunello family created an entire line of fabulous grappa's called Ricordi:each from a single grape pomace,which to me is to my taste. Some are sweeter or more floral.

Here is what they say about the one I chose, Catarratto di Monreale.

A historic white-grape vine, native to Sicily. Also known as "catarratto vrancu" and the "Leopard's grape". The vine is found throughout Sicily, and is particularly concentrated in the provinces of Trapani and Palermo.

It is quite vigorous and ripens fully between the end of August and mid September. To the nose the grappa is characterized by very fine and intense, typically Sicilian scents (citrus). On the palate it is smooth, warm and lingering with a slight hint of sage and liquorice.
To better appreciate its organoleptic characteristics this grappa should be enjoyed in a tulip-shaped glass at a temperature between 12° and 15°C.

I adored the aroma as well as the flavors, no burning sensation at all.

A very good quality grappa.

Grappa should be enjoyed in small glasses, as in the foto, and sipped slowly. I enjoy serving grappa with deep rich bittersweet chocolates, I also make some chocolate truffles laced with grappa which are perhaps an easier way to learn to love grappa.
Stop by the Brunello Distillery site and check out their products.
I will find out if there is any in the USA! I hope so-if not when you come- you must try!!!

Winter is a perfect time to warm up with a nice grappa!
And a nice way to warm a grappa, in Venice, is after you have had your shot of espresso, pour your grappa in the warm cup and swirl, resitin, it releases the aroma's and cleans out your coffee cup, giving the grappa a tiny hit of the espresso. Then you can go on to enjoy a plain grappa after-Cin cin!!!

December 4, 2009

Divina Cucina Tours- Almost like being here!

Here is a small taste of what we do on our tours in Tuscany and Sicily- to me it is as important for you to be part of the everyday life here and to visit Italy like a local. I hope you can come and join me in Tuscany or Sicily or where ever you would like to go! I can do custom programs for small groups almost anywhere in Italy.

During my 25 years here I have travelled a lot and love to show off my adopted country.

A Passion for Heat- Fruit Mostarda

 Whole clementines at the end of the three day process

I adore all sorts of spicy sauces and the heat that chili gives to food.When I tasted the Mostarda di Cremona, it was love at first bite. Sweet, syrupy candied fruit with a wasabi like kick to it- hot and sweet together.

Not only great flavor, but beautiful as well. I know from my French pastry backround that the candied fruits made in France take days to make. I decided to try to make some whole candied clementines with the mustard essence for the first time.

It is not easy to find recipes with much detail, as Italians are famous for passing on recipes by word of mouth, assuming that everyone basically knows everything anyway.

The recipe I followed was rather strange, in that she takes out the oranges each day after a short 10 minute boiling in the syrup. I would have assumed you would have left them to soak. The syrup reduces daily and creates the syrup and candies the clementines.

My basic rule of life is the first time follow the directions- the second time tweek and the third time it becomes yours- so I guess I have a way to go!

The clementines look a little strange, I expected them to be hard and round- pumped up with the syrup they had absorbed- but instead the skins are tough and then insides have almost disappeared. The flavor is great and I will probably chop them up and put in smaller jam style jars for gifts for the holidays. Not sure I would do them whole again, I can buy them!!!

I am thinking that the way to preserve the fruit more is as in for the French style to soak the fruit for a day first. Will follow up with notes.

The second Mostarda I made was a more classic, home version with pears.
The fruit is peeled and covered in sugar and left to sit overnight. The next day, you cook the syrup with the pears and when cooled add the mostardo essence. I cooked down the syrup and left the fruit uncooked.

I think I would prefer more of a jam with a kick and will work on that next.

It is important not to add the essence of mostarda when the syrup is hot, as it can evaporate.
I have been using 45 drops when the normal amount advised to start with is 15 drops.

Another recipe said 15 drops a jar...... the problems with recipes from Italy is that noone really wants you to know how to make something!!!

In Florence, I go to Bizzari on Via Condotta to get the Essenza di Mostarda.When I was up north in Mantova it is sold in the pharmacy.

I have been told that in America, it is sold in Indian stores, and a friend has recently bought some and is experimenting as we speak! I asked one of my Indian cooking friends and she says it is used over the heat, so cannot be the same essential oil I use.

I look forward to the holidays as the Mostarda is also made using candied vegetables which look like jewels to serve with the Bollito Misto dinner which I make as my Christmas dinner.

When I buy the Mostarda, it is not always as hot as I like either, but by having my own essence I can take it up several notches.

When I get the perfect recipe I will let you know.

Mostarda is also lovely to serve with cheeses and used like our red pepper jelly with Cream cheese.
But oh so much nicer!

Happy holidays- I will be posting more of cookies and sweets to celebrate!

Don't forget- if you want to escape and cook with me in Mexico- there is space available!
Contact Dianne at Rancho Casa Luna in San Miguel D'allende.