Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day Six

Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Math has never really been my forté, but especially lately. I've been distracted and nearly forgot that 1+1+1+1+1 does not equal 6. Perhaps The Six Days of Comfort Food should include more than five posts.

So here I am, conquering arithmetic and talking about cookies. These cookies, to be specific, which are my favourite recipe of late. I love them because they are thick, soft, and chewy, all tough traits to find in the amateur cookie-recipe world. I almost always use dark chocolate because the dough is quite sweet, and usually add toasted hazelnuts since nut-ified cookies are always better. Unless I've been asked to bake for nine bake-sales plus a football team, I almost always half this recipe.

How many days ago did I make these? One. How many kinds of chocolate did I put in them? Two. How many times have I made these now? Three. And how many did I eat fresh out of the oven? Four. Take that Math 11 and my crappy exam score, look who's countin' NOW.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day Five

French Toast.
Panettone - the large, domed, bread-like cakes filled with dried fruit - are everywhere during the holiday season in Italy. Stacked like precarious castles in the grocery store or swinging from Italians' hands as they stroll down the street, they are as much a part of the festive season as Christmas lights (and you should see how far they go with lights here). I was given one, or should I say re-gifted one, when some friends left, and it's a lot to take on alone. Very tasty, but really quite huge.

I sliced into it on Christmas morning and spread it with butter (I prefer to slot it into the 'bread' category, not cake, therefore justifying the extra fat) but only managed to get through about 1/16 of it. Solid effort Anderson, but not good enough.

This morning I put a serious hurtin' on it by making French toast. Now a few days old and ever so slightly stale, the large wedges of Panettone were perfect for soaking up milk and eggs and fried up beautifully golden in butter.

I also used some of Naama's leftover Challah, then drizzled it all with the vanilla bean-infused maple syrup that Linds brought me from Vancouver.

There you go, French toast made with Italian and Jewish bread and covered in Canadian sugar. Comfort breakfast at its finest.

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day Four

International Christmas Eve.

Last week most of our class was homeward bound, but in Parma there remained a small and eclectic group of UNISG-ers who decided to celebrate the holidays together. On Christmas Eve I had Emily, her parents and sister (visiting from the US), Naama (from Israel, this was her first Christmas ever), Natalie and Chris (from Arizona) and Sung (from South Korea) over for dinner. While our potluck dinner may have been far from Traditional, in anyone's books, it was absolutely comforting.

Each dish was to be savoured, though I think everyone in attendance would agree that the culinary coup of the evening was Sung's Rib Cake. I know the name puts a strange vision in your head, so let me explain.

Last week, during one of the many rounds of goodbye drinks at Tabarro, Sung told me about his idea. Inspired by our friend Yui's 'Sushi cake' she'd made for Carey's birthday (layers of rice and sushi toppings in a springform pan; clever, gorgeous, and sooo tasty), Sung decided to do something similar with his famous Soy and Grappa-marinated ribs. When he made them the first time, way back when Barney Haughton visited, they were such a hit with the ladies that I dubbed them Sung's "Panty-Remover" ribs. Seriously, I think he received about eight marriage proposals that day.

So at Tabarro he laid out his plan: he'd layer cooked rice in a cake pan, cover it with a layer of ribs, then broil it all in the oven to caramelize the top and make the 'icing.' I went home, fell asleep, and dreamt about it. Actually dreamt about the Rib Cake. It was on.

On Christmas Eve Sung arrived, looking dapper as usual, and into the oven went the cake. It broiled beautifully, the sauce on the ribs browning and rippling and inspiring awe amongst the small crowd gathered round to watch.

At the table it unmoulded beautifully and was drizzled with the leftover rib sauce, then eaten with Naama's rich homemade Challah, Emily's cozy sage/sausage/white bean soup, Natalie 'Dairy-fest" cheese and potato gratin, truffled cheese, wild boar salami, roasted veggie and feta salad, and gingerbread cake with caramel sauce and cookies for dessert. Otis Redding serenaded us with White Christmas and we ate'til we could eat no more.

The Andersons weren't here for Christmas and that's never easy, but I still got to be with family. Family that makes rib cake. It was a lovely, memorable Christmas Eve and I hope yours was the same. Buon Natale.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day Three

Mac and Cheese.
As my time in Parma nears its end, I often find myself gripped by a sudden, overwhelming panic. These 'episodes' end with me standing in my favourite shop and handing money over the counter in return for a heavy bag. It's cheese. I've been overtaken by cheese panic.

For a year I've grated Parmigiano Reggiano over my pasta with reckless abandon, and only a month ago realized that this kind of satisfying liberality will soon be over, replaced by the calculated, make-100-grams-last-all-month kind of cheese mentality I had before. Compared to the cost of Italian cheese in Canada, they practically give the stuff away here for free. Stinky, soft, hard, round, square, aged, or fresh, cheeses crowd the counters of both speciality shops and regular grocery stores screaming "Buy me! AND me! Why not? You can actually afford it!" I will miss this only slightly less than I miss my friends, and I miss them badly.

So, for the third day of Comfort Food, my friend Catherine suggested Mac and Cheese. This kind of thinking is why I'm friends with her. It was the perfect excuse to buy four kinds of cheese to put in the sauce and some rustic bronze-dye pasta to soak it all up.

I modelled the sauce after that of Janice Beaton (my former boss at JBFC) which they serve in the Mac and Cheese at her restaurant FARM. I used Taleggio, Pecorino Stagionato, Parmigiano Reggiano and Gruyere, did not hold back on the garlic or dijon, and replaced the breadcrumb topping with more cheese. Because apparently I felt I hadn't yet used enough.

It was really cheesy, I was really happy, and I made so darn much of it that it's been comforting me for several days now. Someone's gotta eat it.

Thanks to Kirsten Teel for her lovely shots o' the Mac and Cheese.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day Two

A panini in Italy isn't always a panini in North America. In fact, panini (multiple) are what you get when you have more than one panino (singular), and this word means 'sandwich.' Just any ordinary sandwich, whether it be a cold ham and cheese or something grilled like you get back home. Language lesson aside, if you pick the right ones, Italian sandwiches can be the perfect comfort food on a cold, drizzly day.

Last week during dinner with some Italian friends, we were advised that before leaving Parma we must try two panini in particular. After a lazy morning indoors, we decided that this afternoon we would bundle up, go for a walk, and fulfill our promise to seek these sandwiches out.

First stop: Enoteca Fontana, for The Principe (Prince) Panino. Judging by the number of dark wool coats we battled through to get to the counter, every businessman on Via Farini and beyond come here for lunch. I ordered from the nine-armed bartender, then elbowed my way over to the sandwich counter and passed off my receipt to the equally-busy panini maker.

A few minutes later we held The Principe in our hands: generous slices of prosciutto and parmigiano grilled between two slices of oily focaccia, exactly the sort of sandwich you'd expect in Italy, especially Emilia-Romagna. It was a salt feast, and very satisfying.

Second Stop: Pepen, for the Spacca Balli (spelled wrong I'm sure, but literally translated as "ball-buster.") Apparently this has something to do with the number of ingredients in it, hence making it a difficult order. There weren't actually that many though, but who knows. Can't argue with tradition.

We again fought our way into the crowded shop, ordered, and were handed a toasted roll filled with roast pork, lettuce, tomato, spicy ketchup and mayo. It was really good, though not as good as when Kirsten pointed out the shop 'decorations' on the wall behind the sandwich counter. These were several posters of naked women, staring down at the cutting boards below and providing sexy inspiration for the men at work. It must be effective, because the guys at Pepen were super cheerful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Six Days of Comfort Food: Day One

Chicken and Dumplings.

A few days ago, amidst the trauma of class-mate farewells, my friend Emily emailed me and suggested we make this recipe from Pioneer Woman. I, sitting hungry at my computer and wearing multiple sweaters to keep warm, decided this was the most brilliant idea I'd ever heard.

Because she's Emily, this recipe involved:

Going to the farmer's market in the morning and purchasing a whole chicken, which she proceeded to butcher herself (First time! Skills!) and used the feet to make stock.

Next, we went ice-skating with friends, because things always taste better when preceded by some sort of chilly, wintery activity. If the option's available to you, cross-country skiing is also highly effective for maximizing the enjoyment of comfort food.

Post-skating we donned comfy pants, mixed up Ginger-Whiskey cocktails, and began browning the chicken. Emily looked after the bird while I chopped vegetables and made the dumpling dough (which is stupidly easy, by the way).

Once everything had been chopped, browned, stirred, shredded, dropped, steamed and simmered, we dished up the first (of several) helpings to share with our friends Carey and Yui. It was comfort food at its finest, and the nicest way to spend a frosty Friday evening.

If you're not feeling quite as ambitious as Emily, you could easily skip the butchering and buy pre-cut chicken pieces and broth, or just make the dumplings to drop into any favourite soup or stew. We also used apple juice instead of apple cider, and sprinkled each bowl with some freshly chopped Italian parsley.

This is a great recipe to make as a pair, with one person tending to the chicken while the other prepares the rest. Then make it even better by sharing with friends! Day One of The Six Days of Comfort Food was a comfort indeed.

Ciao. Arrivederci. A dopo....


Our school-year has come to an end. Accompanied by many Long Hugs, Quivering-Lower-Lips and Tears, these farewell words have been choked out so many times in the past week that the whole class is exhausted. At least I am. I’ve spent a year living, cooking, eating, drinking, dancing, travelling and learning with twenty-six people whom I'm going to miss terribly. I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank goodness for skype.

A few of us are staying here for the holidays, and with the endless goodbyes, distance from home, and recently-fallen snow, Emily figured we needed something nice. Something warm. Something to be eaten while wearing sweatpants and curled up on a couch. Last night she made Chicken and Dumplings, and as we ate it everything did feel better. It was the kind of meal you concentrate on, savour, one which doesn’t allow you to blindly fill your belly while chattering away or worrying about other things. It demands your attention and rightly so, because it was amazing.

Inspired by this hug of a meal, I have decided on a project. Chicken and Dumplings will be Day One of The Six Days of Comfort Food, dedicated to the UNISG FCC-A Class of 2011. Post one coming soon.

A dopo mie amiche.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Don't Have to be Chained to the Stove all Day, Just Set the Timer and You're on Your Way!

I'm perplexed. Nearly fifty-five years ago, Frigidaire produced this film about the Kitchen of the Future.

If this was their vision in the 50's, then surely they must have intended it for my mother's generation, the baby boomers. It therefore should have been the kitchen of my childhood. This was not the kitchen of my childhood.

WHERE were the eggbeaters descending from cupboards? WHERE were the cakes that came out of the bubble-top oven with their icing and candles already on? And my mother? WHY wasn't my top-hat-wearing father escorting her into the kitchen where she'd twirl around and press buttons then dance off to go play golf and tennis while the meals cooked themselves?

Frigidaire, I'm seriously disappointed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh Yeah.....

Sometimes I forget to mention Big News. Lately a few friends have been asking what I’m up to in January, and I realized that I never blogged about having my school internship sorted. I'm going to India!

I’ll be in the southern part of the country (about 10 hours west of Bangalore), interning for three months with an agriculture/seed-saving collective called Vanastree. It was founded by a woman named Sunita and supports local women in their work to maintain biodiversity. I’ll be living and working with Sunita on her farm, spending time in Vanastree’s office helping with their communications, and on weekends will be visiting other farmers and producers to learn about what they do.

Interns will include myself and two American students whom I’ve been in touch with and am looking forward to meeting. Currently, I’m staring down an endless list on my wall entitled Things To Do, Buy and Pack Before India. Number 1: Get an Indian visa. I dropped off my completed application forms a few days ago in Milan and am really hoping to have my passport - in one piece and newly adorned with an “Entry Permitted” sticker - back in my hands again soon.

I’m terrified and excited at the same time, and you can expect more blog posts of the “I’m-in-a- new-country-and-frequently-embarrassing-myself” variety starting January 2011. Whatever this next adventure brings, I know I won’t be under-stimulated. Nor will my digestive system, so sorry ahead of time dear stomach.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hungry Hungry Planet.

A friend of mine sent me the link to this fascinating series of photos from the book Hungry Planet. Photos are taken of families surrounded by the total amount of food they consume in a as well as the amount it cost them. The visual differences between various cultures' consumption patterns are fascinating and rather shocking. You can have a look at Time's photo essay of the project here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grab My Hands and Tiramisu!

Eight months have disappeared since school began, and I’m not entirely sure where they’re hidden. We just finished our sixth (sixth!) and final school trip, closing up our travelling schedule with a journey to Tuscany. We drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of food, then drank more wine and finished up with some vino.

My favourite stop on our tour wasn't a vineyard, however. It was Spannocchia, a farm and agriturismo that runs an amazing educational program and hosts up to 24 interns each year. One of the current interns is a UNISG student named Chris, and part of his work includes chasing after Cinta Senese pigs, a rare black breed unique to the area. Unlike the pigs bred for Prosciutto di Parma, these swine roam freely in the forests around Spannocchia and use their snouts to forage food from the ground. I bet these pigs eat more truffles each year than the average person eats in a lifetime, and I'd envy them if it wasn't for the fact that they eventually become salumi.

After the trip I stayed in Tuscany a few more days to visit Elisa and Gabrielle, my old hosts from Podere Le Fornace where I wwoofed last year. They’ve sinced moved off the farm but welcomed me into their new home, a hill-top farmhouse with vineyard views out of each window. On Saturday afternoon we picked up Gabrielle from his grandparent’s land, where he is helping with the olive harvest. Though their grandson now runs the operation, at 84 and 80 Nonno and Nonna still work long days to relieve the hundreds of trees of their ripe fruit. We drove to the frantoio (mill) to pick up the first batch: 52 litres of bright green olio nuovo that we struggled to lift into the trunk. In the evening, Elisa toasted slices of bread for us to rub with garlic, sprinkle with salt, and eat drenched in the spicy new oil.

While playing outside with their 4 ½ year old daughter Priscilla, I had another of my Italian Linguistic Moments. As she jumped up and down on the yard's mattress-turned-trampoline, I held her hands and lifted her up on every third jump. I stopped when my arms became tired, causing her to exclaim “Tiramisu! Tiramisu!” and me to wonder why she was suddenly shouting a dessert at me. I was tempted to shout “chocolate cake!” back at her, but then realized what she was saying; tiramisu literally means “lift me up,” a fact I’ve heard many times before but have never applied to my life beyond the dessert buffet. After figuring this out I summoned what strength was left in my arms (the only exercise I've had lately is raising wine glasses to my mouth), and lifted her up as high as I could. She laughed and laughed and I was a hero.

The moral of this story: an obsessive love of all things sweet can be useful in the real world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Spruced Up.

Happy November to all. Here's my latest entry to the UNISG student blog......

This summer I needed to get out of Parma. Desperately. A girl can only sweat so much before she sits down, books a trip to she can’t afford, and flies off to Norway.

I landed in Bergen, mercifully cold enough to warrant a sweater, and walked through its medieval wooden quarters on the harbour. Further south in Preikestolen, I hiked to the imposing Pulpit Rock and peered over its edge to the Lysefjord below. At the tip of this fjord I chased BASE-jumpers up to the famous Kjerag Boulder, which I climbed upon for a picture (but didn’t jump off). Norway’s landscapes were wild, unpredictable, and already I long to return.

Norway tasted wild, too; one night we had dinner at Hanne på Høyden, a restaurant in Bergen owned by chef Hanne Frosta. They source or forage nearly every ingredient from Norway, and even make their own wines from a variety of local fruits.

I ordered the beef filet, butchered from a peculiarly small breed of Norwegian cow and served with spruce-tip butter. This topping was simple, just butter smashed up with the supple ends of spruce branches, and like lavender, the spruce tasted just as it smells: woodsy, earthy and green. It complimented the beef beautifully, and oddly enough, tasted familiar.

When we had the chance to meet Hanne, I told her a story: every summer when I was a child, my father took us camping on an island in the middle of a lake. When we weren’t upsetting nature’s equilibrium by digging wells or damning creeks, one of our many projects was to harvest spruce tips. We’d stick them in a can of water and leave it on the campfire to boil. With enough sugar stirred in, this tea-of-the-forest was drunk without qualms, though my mother, happy to abstain from these trips, would have had a heart-attack if she knew what we were cooking up in rusty metal.

I couldn’t have guessed that seventeen years later I’d be eating spruce-tips again, this time melted over beef and served on a plate rather than in a can. It is a rare and curious moment when taste elicits such a memory, and I love Norway all the more because of it.