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Monday, December 21, 2009

White Chocolate and Cranberry Shortbread

We had our annual christmas baking party this year where I tried an adapted recipe for shortbread cookies from the LCBO Food & Drink. I found the recipe made the dough way too dry, in fact it would not combine at all. Therefore I added more butter and some milk (did not measure, just added a bit at a time until the dough would combine) and hoped for the best. It turned out really well. Rather than roll the dough out and cut out shapes as originally planned, I rolled the dough into a log and sliced the cookies. The end result was a nice crunchy shortbread with
sweetness from the white chocolate and sourness from the cranberries.
White Chocolate and Cranberry Shortbread

¾ cup granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup dried craisins (cherry flavoured)
1 cup white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Add sugar into food processor. Turn on and off twice to grind sugar a little finer. Add flour and salt to food processor. Add cold butter and process until combined. Combine 1 cup (250 mL) dried craisins with 1 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate. Stir into cookie batter before combining into a ball. Do not form into a ball in food processor.

Scrape mixture into a bowl and knead together gently to form dough. This is where I added a bit of milk to combine and make a dough. Divide dough into thirds and roll into a log using wax or parchement paper and put in the fridge for a couple hours.

Take out and slice the log into 1/2 inch cookies.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet and prick each round with a fork.
Bake in centre of oven for 20 minutes or until a creamy colour. The shortbread will not be firm. It hardens as it cools.6. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets.

Makes about 40 cookies

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wine Bars in Rome

If you have ever been to Rome, you know that, the concept of forming a line is non existent, so do not bother being polite and waiting at the counter for someone to serve you, just go right up there and blurt out what you want. (fyi: the above photo is not mine, but the rest are)

Secondly the crowds near some of the tourist places are overwhelming and although the places are packed with history, art and great food, the crowds sort of lost the allure and romance these places can exuded in solitude.

Don’t get me wrong I loved seeing these places, but near the end of the day I was in the mood to find a quieter place away from the crowds where I could relax and hear myself think. My husband and I found this solitude in Rome wine bars. This was also true for Venice.

Wine bars in Italy are known as enoteche. One particular wine bar we found was near the hustle and bustle, but tucked into a little cobble stone side street that was not overcrowded or hot. The place was called Enoteca Cavour. It featured a large oak bar, great selection of wines, and platters of cheeses, meats, olives, frittatas, to nibble on as you sipped your drink. We enjoyed some wine and nibbles and later returned for a perfect dinner out in the cobble stone street. We enjoyed Veal Scallopinni.

Veal Scallopinni

We found another wine bar for lunch close to the Monte area called Urbana 47. A lesser touristic area, and highly recommended place to stay away from the tourism. Tons of local shops and restaurants around.

The wine was fabulous here, and the spread was mainly vegetarian and all organic foods. The buffet style allowed us to try different Italian foods featuring a lot of roasted red peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, artichokes, and cheese. The place itself was really modern and funky.

This is a wine bar across from our Hotel i the Monte area. I loved the Pulp Fiction mural. Never had wine hear, but they had a great coffee.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Veal Marsala

During my travels in Italy there were a few traditional dishes I had to try. Although I was fortunate to try lamb ragu, veal scaloppini, mussels, nutella crepes, pizzas, antipasti and an abundance of wines there were many more I did not get to try. I guess that just means there is an excuse to go back.

One dish that stood out was veal marsala. The cut is obviously extremely tender with a warm silky smooth textured wine and mushroom sauce coating it. The whole porcini and cremini mushrooms absorb so much of the liquid that they pop in your mouth. Desiring that culinary experience again and to reminisce about the cute cobble stoned alley where we dined my husband and I made a mouth-watering veal marsala. The recipe was from non other than Cooking Light, an Italian magazine and website that provides some wonderful quick yet delectable Italian dishes.

1 pound veal scaloppine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2/3 cup beef consommé
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup dry marsala wine
1 cup presliced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Dredge veal in flour. Combine 1 T flour and broth, stirring with a whisk; set aside.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add veal, cook 1 1/2 minutes. Turn veal over; cook 1 minute. Remove veal from pan.

Add wine to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add broth mixture, mushrooms, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 3 minutes or until thick. Return veal to pan; sprinkle with parsley.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pizza with Grilled Vegetables, Pesto & Goat Cheese

I had some friends over to look at photos of my European trip. I figured if I had to get their attention for over 1000 photos I should probably entice them with some food. I figured pizza was a classic thing to have since I was featuring some photos from Italy. It was also nice because I could pre-make the pizza and then just throw it in the oven when it came time to eat. To make the pizza more Italian I used my homemade pesto and tomato sauce as the base and topped it with grilled vegetables and goat cheese. Grilling the vegetables adds so much more flavour to the pizza. You can also roast the vegetables (if you do not have a grill) to intensify the taste of the veggies.

1 cup warm water
1 tsp dry active yeast
4 tsp honey
2 cups organic whole wheat flour
1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
add herbs if desired (oregano, basil, chili flakes)

Place the yeast and honey in a large mixing bowl and pour the heated water over the mixture, stirring until well blended. Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes until foamy. Add the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour and salt and stir with a fork until a coarse dough forms

Continue to mix by hand until a dough ball forms and all the flour is well blended. Cover the bowl and place it in a sink with about 4 inches of hot water in the bottom. The heat from the warm water will help the dough rise. The dough will double in size in about 40 minutes.

Punch it a few times with your fingers and let it rise another 30 minutes. Remove from the bowl and cut the ball into four equal pieces or 2 pieces. Can refridgerate unused dough for a day or two.

Pizza Sauce

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup minced onions
1 clove garlic minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 can (5oz) tomato paste
2 T dried oregano
1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

Add salt, pepper, chili flakes, italian seasoning as desired to kick it up a bit. Cook onions and garlic in saucepan for 3min until softened. Add the rest of the ingredient and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 min. Cool before using. Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a food processor combine the basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt and pepper. Pulse in a the food processor. While pulsing slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream. Add more salt and pepper if needed.Makes 1 cup.

Pizza Toppings

1 yellow zucchini
1 green zucchini
tomatoes (orange, yellow, red)
red peppers
goat cheese
optional (Italian sausage)

Slice the vegetables to ½” thickness (lengthwise for zucchini and red pepper and in rounds for eggplant). Brush with olive oil and grill on each side over med heat (only a few minutes per side). Let cool before placing on the pizza or will be soggy.
Cook pizza crust slightly before adding the pesto, tomato sauce and vegetables. Crumble with goat cheese and cook for 20 min at 400F. Usually broil it for a couple minutes after it is cooked. Watch the pizza and check it at 15 min to ensure not burning as all ovens differ.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

MBT Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bertone (and back)

MBT Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bertone (and back)

Stage V was not a full day for us, as we would be going back to Chamonix the following day. We did a short day hike up to Refugio Bertone (1,980')and back. The round trip took as about 3hrs.
At Refuge Bertone we relaxed sipping our espresso’s and gazed at the Mont Blanc and the Aiguille Noire. We descended back into town and spent the day enjoying Courmayeur’s pastry shops, cafes and bars. The following day we watched the start of one of the ultra marathon races and then bused it back to Chamonix. In Chamonix we were able to watch the end of the race and further relax in the hot tub at Hotel Alpina.

Enjoying espresso.

Sipping on more espresso in Courmayeur quaint streets.
Mountains in the backdrop

Enjoying the view from our hotel patio.
More pizza that night!

Getting ready to head back to Chamonix.

Start of the Ultra Marathon in Courmayeur.

MBT Stage 4: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur

Much like Stage III we awoke to a cloudy sky which cleared as we approached our destination. Again we were sad to leave the cozy and welcoming abode of Elisabetta (seen above) but we were also excited to see some more mountains and to get to the town of Courmayeur.

Knowing this was almost our final stage in the Alps we took our time gazing at the mountain ranges and glaciers, and prolonging the inevitable end of this amazing trek. Stage IV took us 18km from Refuge Elisabetta to Courmayeur and past the wall of moraine and the Glacier de Miage. We were originally going to trek via Rifugio Monte Bianco, but at the last minute we decided views from the main route might be more intense. After meeting some trekkers on route, I was i nformed that the trek to Monte Bianco offers its own beauty and seeing the refugio that night on a tv special about the region, showed its powerful position on the mountain, pretty impressive. When in the Alps I can't imagine a bad view.

Mont Blanc covered by cloud.

Trekking away from Elisabetta with Glacier Miage in the background.

As we climbed the slopes of the L’Arp Vieille I was more than impressed by the views of first the Glacier de Miage and then the entire face of the Mont Blanc Range (southern side) with the Val Veni down below.

Great Deuter backpack!

As we climbed up towards the highest point of Stage IV, Mont Favre Spur, 7,970’ we were fortunate enough to see a helicopter delivering loads for the upcoming ultra marathon. In fact, the helicopter flew right over us and dropped its cargo almost directly in front of us. It was an impressive site and sound and gave some notion to what mountain rescue might be like in these vast mountains.

The high point of the stage.

Great views of the Mont Blanc range.

Finally a photo of the two of us, thanks to the Cape Town girls.
After spending some time gazing at the Mont Blanc range we began our descent down towards Col Checrouit, and then down a very steep ski slope towards the beautiful town of Dolonne.

Once in Dolonne we had to navigate our way through the narrow stone alleys towards the village of Courmayeur. Here we found our accommodations – Hotel Wasler – where we’d stay for 2 nights. We went with a slightly higher scale hotel because we'd be there for 2 nights, and we were not doing any more strenuous hiking, so it was more like a vacation style for us, not to mention the hot tub. But there are plenty of affordable and lower end hotels/refuges to stay in if you are continuing on the 11 day trek.

Noteworthy is to mention that this place had the best breakfast. Each morning we'd awake to freshly baked croissants. The scent seriously filled the hotel and was amazing. Breakfast included coffee, tea, juice, croissants, cereals, fruit, cheese, deli meats, pastries, toast/bread, yogurt. It was an amazing spread.

View from Hotel Wasler.

Hotel Wasler

We decided it was cheaper and fun to go find some authentic Italian pizza and buy some Chianti at the groceria and chill out in our room. Padella’s made an amazing pizza that we could not get enough of, it had delicious thin crust, with flavorful tomato sauce, thinly sliced spicy sausage, grilled eggplant, red onion and mozzarella.
Tomorrow would be our last small trek to Bertone and back and then we'd have the afternoon to check out Courmayeur.
Stage IV Summary

Route: Main
Total Hours: 7hrs very slow pace this time to soak it all in
Total Kilometers: 18km
Accommodations: Hotel Walser
Accommodations Cost: 100€
Dinner: Pizza from Padella's and a bottle of Chianti
Breakfast: Everything and amazing freshly baked croissants.