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Showing posts from May, 2018

Simple Pleasures of Traveling

For my train ride to Milan, I grabbed a slice of pizza at the train station. All the slices I have had in Italy have been thick Sicilian style, not the ultra thin pizza I remember. Has something changed or are thick slices considered better for walking around? On the train, I snagged a bag of these wonderful round crackers made with semolina. I'm not sure what they are called but I do like them.

Florentine dinner

I stopped during my evening stroll for a light dinner. The restaurant didn't make their name easy to find. But they were very nice to me and I enjoyed my meal. I started with a bowl of ribbolita, the Florentine bread soup. It also includes several types of greens as well as beans. This is a very hearty soup. The fact that it gains its heft from both beans and bread keeps the flavor profile from being lopsided. The greens also contrast nicely with the bread. I plan to try to make this soup at home. I finished with a nice order of lemon chicken and a salad. The lemon sauce was very smooth. It gave just a kiss of tartness to complement the chicken. Very satisfying without being heavy. After a little more walking, I stopped by Festival del Gelato since no visit to Italy is complete without one dish of gelato. Nocciola (hazelnut) is my favorite.

Florence: Ristorante Buca Mario

Shuvra, Francesca, and I enjoyed a superb example of Florentine dining at Buca Mario. It's a good thing we made a reservation---we managed to get the last table before 10 PM. The restaurant is located downstairs in a warren of cozy rooms. The service is both extremely gracious and very welcoming. We started, of course, with a basket of wonderful Italian bread. I started with a prosciutto served with chicken liver pate and crostini. I have never seen proscuitto served in this style and I found it to be a wonderful, intense experience. The pate gave a wonderful contrast to the prosciutto in both taste and texture. It was served warm while the ham was room temperature, another wonderful contrast that also helped to keep everything together. This is my classic Florentine steak. The preparation is grilled with garlic, traditionally served rare. You can't tell from the picture that the steak is at least an inch thick. Grilling something so thick requires a grea

Florence: Braciere Malatesta

Jarmo, Shuvra, and I convened at Malatesta for a very enjoyable lunch before our presentations. We started with some of that superb Italian bread. Jarmo and I both ordered pizzas with a bit of anchovy. Everything about it was wonderful: crispy/chewy crust, rich sauce, excellent cheese, a nice kiss of anchovy. Shuvra did very well for himself with these large and excellent sausages. The Florentines really know how to do meat.

An Evening Stroll in Florence

I arrived in Florence, worked a little in my room, and then I was ready for dinner. I quickly realized that I didn't want to sit around a restaurant---I wanted to walk through this beautiful city. When I arrived at the Piazza del Duomo, I spotted this pizzeria... ...and quickly settled on this red pepper pizza prepared in what is known in New Jersey as Sicilian style. The deep-dish pizza had a crust with a nice crunch on the bottom and tender bread on the inside, with wonderfully sweet peppers on top. I enjoyed the pizza as I watched the sun set on one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. A few minutes later, I was at Piazza della Repubblica and stopped by Gilli for a pastry. Their selection is huge. I ended up with a small ricotta and semolina tart. It was a rich, delicate dessert that I enjoyed with the last rays of the sun.

Pellegrino Artuzi

On our way to a local castle, Enrico pointed out this statue in the town of Forlimpopoli. Pellegrino Artusi wrote the first Italian cookbook in the late 19th century. It became a best seller and is still in print. Mr. Artusi's interest in food comes as no surprise, given the huge array of crops grown all throughout this valley. Grazie, Mr. Artusi!

Bologna: Salle Grosso

I stepped off the plane in Bologna to be greeted with this cheerful reminder. Enrico and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch and caught up with each other's lives. Salle Grosso is clearly a hotspot for the University of Bologna. This bread was superb with a very rich taste of wheat. Enrico and I both ordered this spaghetti sauced with anchovies, pine nuts, and saffron. The taste is very delicate---the anchovies and pine nuts both came through but neither was overwhelming. The tight texture of the sauce helped it to cling to the pasta, enhancing the experience. Having come off a long flight, I had a second course of cold asparagus and warm custard, both drizzled with balsamic vinegar. This was a very comforting dish And, of course, we finished with espresso.

Update: The Beautiful

The Beautiful is an Atlanta classic, serving good food and gracious service for 40 years. Debbie enjoyed a wonderful, peaceful lunch there. We both ordered the salmon, which is excellent. As Debbie pointed out, their cornbread is superb---plenty of rich, corn taste and a nice bit of carmelization on top. They must use very good cornmeal. Both of us appreciated the staff's graciousness. I always feel like a welcomed guest when I visit The Beautiful.

Reverse-Seared Ribeye

Serious Eats has posted several articles on reverse-seared meat so I decided to give it a serious try. The idea is to cook the meat through first at low temperature, then sear it at the end. The result should be more even cooking plus a nice sear on the outside. I put my ribeye into a 250 degree oven and measured its temperature with my thermometer. I overshot the temperature a little bit but had it roughly in the medium rare range. I then put it in a pan on the stove to sear on both sides. Here it is ready to eat. I didn't sear it quite as much as I would like. I was concerned about overcooking the meat during searing. I think that successful use of this technique requires a very hot searing environment to quickly prepare the surface before the heat has a chance to penetrate. Oh well, it was still a good steak.


I stopped by Shearl Produce, one of my favorite farm stands, at the Georgia/North Carolina border. I was intrigued by their sign proclaiming ramp season. I had heard vaguely of ramps but didn't know what they were. They are, it turns out, these delicate little roots. I decided to give them a try. Ramps, as it turns out, are gathered rather than cultivated and are considered a rarity. Here are the ramps in the middle of the chopping process. The stem is purplish. I used them in Alton Brown's potato soup recipe, substituting the ramps for leeks. I also hand-mashed the soup rather than pureeing it because I wanted to preserve the ramps. Their taste was delightful---not acidic like onions, a little sweet like garlic but not without its punch. They had a tangy quality but one that was very delicate. I would definitely make this soup again and use ramps in other recipes. That is, if I ever find them again. And here is the delicious fresh corn I bought to go wi

Sylva NC: Guadalupe Cafe

I have been through Sylva several times but never before stopped. The town hosts a paper mill and a large community of interesting people. I found three bookstores within two blocks of each other. Guadalupe Cafe is on the main street and serves a very nice menu of what I believe they called rainforest-inspired foods. My burrito was tasty and hearty. It was all vegetarian: plenty of beans and avocado. The salsa was excellent, with a good dose of cilantro and very fresh tomatoes. The service was very friendly. I would stop here again.

Update: Dinner at the Pisgah Inn

The Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of my favorite places. I enjoyed this wonderful fried chicken dinner as fog enveloped the mountaintop. A cup of coffee helped me to relax and enjoy the foggy evening.

Texas Sheet Cake

Inspired by this recipe from Serious Eats , I decided to make a Texas sheet cake. I am not sure whether the name comes from a Texas dish or merely refers to the size of the cake. But it gave me a chance to use up some excess buttermilk. The batter goes into a half-sheet pan. So long as you spread it out fairly evenly, heat will encourage it to find its own level. Here is the cake fresh out of the oven. I iced it with some leftover buttercream frosting from the freezer. The final adornment is several handfuls of Ellis Bros. pecans. I was worried that the cake's thinness would cause it to be dry but it was wonderfully moist. The chocolate and flavorful pecans make a perfect combination.

Lemon Custard

Lemon custard seemed like a wonderful use for some lemons I found at the grocery store. I started by squeezing the lemons and grating off some lemon zest. I then mixed together the ingredients, which include flour. Not having made a lemon custard before, I wasn't expecting flour to appear on the ingredient list. I put the mixture in ramekins and steamed them. The result was very tasty, nicely tart without being overwhelmingly so. The flour gave the custard a different, slightly cakier texture than other types of custards. It was very pleasing but it didn't hold up for very long. If you make this style of custard, be prepared to enjoy it quickly.

Spiced French Toast and Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

In the mood for a variation on french toast, I ground a cinnamon stick and grated a nutmeg. The spices woke up my tongue and made a nice contrast to the bananas. I also squeezed some of my Florida oranges. Rotating the orange half around the juicer helps to ensure that all the juice makes it to the bowl. I blended the juice with some Greek yogurt and a little ice to make an orange lassi. The Greek yogurt complemented the orange juice very nicely.