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Thursday, May 31, 2012

From Rome to Munich

I'm back!  Although with a serious vacation hangover, otherwise known as jet lag, that causes me to wake up at midnight thinking I have had a full night's sleep and that it's time to get up because, after all, it's 10 a.m. in Europe.

It's the price I pay for having a fabulous vacation, right?  That and a couple of extra pounds despite walking an average of eight miles a day.  I'm back to the gym in a serious way.

David and I flew from Anchorage to Rome, which is less difficult than you might think--there is a flight that goes straight from Anchorage to Frankfurt in about nine hours, and then we caught a quick flight to Rome.  We stayed in Rome for four days and then gradually worked our way back through Florence, Bologna, Verona, Trento and Bolzano in northern Italy, Innsbruck, Austria and finally Munich before catching a train back to Frankfurt.

I am so happy to have a large supply of clean clothes and my own bed, and lots of material to share here.  To start, let me give you an aperitif.  Literally.

From Rome to Munich, I kept seeing wine glasses containing a slightly fizzy orange drink on every outdoor cafe table.  Either Aperol has a really great advertising budget, or, as I conceded when I finally tried one near the end of our trip, this was a brilliant drink.

Aperol is a liqueur made primarily of oranges, including blood orange, plus unidentified herbs and roots. 

An Aperol Spritz is a drink containing Aperol, sparkling wine and sparkling water.  It is traditionally consumed as an aperitif because it is light, relatively low in alcohol and a totally kick-ass color.  David and I brought a bottle of Aperol back to play with, and I'm hoping that I can find it here locally because it's going to become the drink of the summer.

Don't use your fancy champagne here.  Prosecco is the traditional wine of choice, but we made it with cheap Spanish sparkling wine (cava) and it tasted great.  Also, play with the proportions--David liked his with a little less sparkling wine and a little more water.

Aperol Spritz

3 jiggers Aperol liqueur
2 jiggers sparkling wine
1 jigger sparkling water or club soda
Orange slices for garnish (optional)

Pour the sparkling wine and water into a large wine glass and add a few ice cubes and an orange slice if you have one.  Add the Aperol and give it a very quick stir.

Makes one serving.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Vacanza

The witching hour is practically upon me...I've been working like an insane person, compiling a packing list, studying my Italian verbs, writing way too many instructions for the cat/housesitters, and all that's standing between me and my vacation is two more (very full) days at work and, you know, the actual packing part. 

David and I have been spending most of our evenings at home this week, both to get more time in with Ingrid and to get ready to go.  Have you ever been so behind on blogging that you stop taking photos of food because you don't need more things to blog?  In the past week I have not photographed a terrific seafood risotto, a marvelous chicken piccata and a zippy fennel salad.  My future blog entries runneth over, though the chicken piccata was both easy and tasty enough that I expect to make it again this summer and will blog it then.

The exception was the cabbage rolls that I made earlier this week out of the head of cabbage that was rolling around in the vegetable drawer begging to be used.  A word of caution on making these:  my sweet little organic head of cabbage made this recipe more difficult--ideally, a cabbage with larger leaves would be better.

I found myself with a lot of leftover filling on my hands, which I made into meatballs and served with pasta last night. 

Finally, a thanks to those who commented on my mention that I had a no good, very bad day last Saturday.  Some of you may recall that I there was a situation with a friend with whom I was very close, who was having lots of issues during a play we were working on last fall and subsequently left the production.  He's said lots of awful things about me, and I've just been trying to be dignified and keep my head up because confronting him would have been pointless.  He has some significant problems and somehow I've become the scapegoat for them.

At a wedding we were both at last weekend, he yelled at David.  At the wedding.  Horrible and humiliating and painful, so of course I burst into tears and David and I left the reception.  This has been going on for six months and it's not getting any easier.

I hate being such an emotional person.  It's hard to write about this, even in kind of a detached manner.  So again, thanks to all who offered their support.

Whew.  And now on to the cabbage rolls.

Involtini di Verza in Umido (Stewed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
Adapted from the CIA's Italian Cooking at Home

12 large green cabbage leaves
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. loose sausage, preferably a spicy Italian chicken or pork sausage
3/4 cup leftover cooked rice or small pasta (I used leftover couscous)
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups canned Italian whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn by hand or julienned
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Start a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When it is ready, add the cabbage leaves and blanch them until they are soft, about two to three minutes.  While you are doing this, start the oven to preheating to 350 degrees.  When the cabbage leaves are done, remove them from the water and place in a colander to drain.

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sausage, onion, rice or other pasta, and a little salt and pepper.  Use your hands to make sure everything is blended together.

Spray a large baking dish with nonstick spray or rub it with a little olive oil.

Using your hands again, shape the meat mixture into small rolls and place one in the center of each cabbage leaf.  Tuck the edges of the leaf around the bottom of each roll and place in the baking dish.

Once all the rolls are ready, pour the broth and then the crushed tomatoes over them and sprinkle with the parsley and basil.  Tuck the bay leaves into the pan.

Bake until the rolls are cooked through and very soft, about 45 minutes.

Makes twelve rolls, for about four main-dish servings.  Serve with a green salad and bread.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever woken up in the morning with a feeling of dread that something bad was going to happen that day?  That was Saturday for me...and as it turns out, I was right.  But that's too long and hard a story to tell right now.  It's Monday, after all, and we all need to think about more cheerful things.

The table looked gorgeous--I had David and a long-unused set of china to thank for that.
Last week was a whirlwind of work and appointments--we leave on vacation in less than a week, and with a cat diagnosed with bronchitis, houseguests (who we were actually terribly happy to see), work up to my ears and a to-do list as long as my arm, I didn't even touch my blog for another week.

Which means that I am behind in telling you about good events, such as the tea party I threw a week ago yesterday.  You may remember that my friend Arlitia started an event called "Tea and Strumpets," which was really an excuse for a fascinating group of women to get together, eat baked goods and drink lots of tea. 

When Arlitia held the first one, she made two varieties of scones, tea sandwiches and set out what must have been twenty teas to choose from--I lacked her tea variety, but I was determined to make what I think of as proper tea accoutrement--whipped cream, lemon curd, berry sauce plus crumpets and scones.

The crumpets discussion will have to wait, because those suckers were finicky.  Let me tell you about the absolute hit of the party.

Lemon curd.

I love lemon curd, but who knew it was so popular?  It's also ridiculously easy to make, a gorgeous color and you should never buy the stuff again.  It would make a perfect holiday gift in beribboned jars.

Lemon Curd
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April 2001

2 tbsp. lemon zest, finely grated
Juice of four lemons (about 1 cup)
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

In a small, heavy pot, combine the lemon zest and juice, sea salt, sugar and eggs and whisk together thoroughly.  Turn the stove on low and add all the butter in one batch.  Cook, whisking frequently, until all the butter melts and the curd thickens.  Do not let it boil, but when the curd is thick enough that you can see the whisking marks, remove the curd from the heat and strain it through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

Transfer the strained curd to a small bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface.  Chill until the curd is thoroughly cooled, about 45 minutes.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups curd.