Archived entries for travel

Roman holiday

The Pantheon, as shot by the little chica

It’s been a while since my previous post, but hopefully some travel pics will make up for it. During the holidays, my mom and niece came to visit, and as a treat, we went to Rome for a few days. We’ll definitely have to make a return trip because three of the five days were spent tending to a sick baby with an awful stomach virus, poor thing. Thankfully, we were staying in an apartment in Prati, where there was no shortage of good takeout pizza.

I had come to Rome with a list of recommendations from various articles and blogs. But after Day 1, I came away a bit disappointed and discovered that coming with a list is totally unnecessary in Rome; I didn’t need to seek out the absolute best coffee, or ice cream or pizza because if you stay in a regular, not-too-touristic neighborhood, the great stuff will just be at the place closest to your neighborhood. Within a few blocks of where we stayed, we stumbled on a really good bakery, a restaurant that was happy to do takeout pizza for us and a shop dedicated to fresh pasta of every sort (which we unfortunately did not have time to try.) The standard of things like coffee and ice cream is high everywhere, so, like Paris, it’s not necessary to go across town for the one that the Times or the foodies on eGullet claim is the absolute best. Ultimately, maybe my palate isn’t so refined, but who cares? We still had some great eats!

I discovered that I found central Rome to be incredibly touristic (not a surprise, but still a surprise, like the crowds at the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, yikes!), and I also discovered that when given her own camera, my 10-year-old little chica takes some really nice pictures. In fact, while I was getting deja vu while snapping pictures of Piazza Navona and the like (you know how you feel like you’ve seen something 100 times before, but not in person?), she somehow captured some interesting shots of the photographed-for-the-millionth time Pantheon and Coliseum. There’s something to be said for seeing something for the first time ever!

Here’s Dolce Maniera, the bakery where we picked up fruit tarts and croissants. Kyle and I stopped in here because we saw a group of old ladies standing outside with bags, so we walked down this stairs to this bakery which seemed to always be this crowded. The cornetti were really nice: sweet but not too sweet, and they had an orange taste to it. We devoured a bag of them on the plane ride back to Holland. Oh and can I talk about queuing in Rome? I got the impression that there is none. You push your way to the front, that’s the queue. What was funny is that on this night, there was a group of Filipinas there (no queuing over there either, believe me), so the crowd was twice as pushy. Go to a popular Filipino seafood market sometime and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Chestnut vendor in the Campo de’ Fiori. We all loved the roasted chestnuts in the street. The smell alone was worth the trip. All the vendors used these drum grills and the same yellow paper cones.

Another treat in the Campo de’ Fiori. Pizza from the Forno Campo de’ Fiori. Not quite street food like panzerotti, but still awesome. The little guy likes.

Hot chocolate at Tazzo d’Oro, near the Pantheon. Hey, the coffee here wasn’t too shabby either.

Sundried tomatoes at the market.

And of course, ice cream. Who cares that it’s winter? I didn’t have anything quite like Grom, but I didn’t have anything bad either.

Little chica’s shot of the Coliseum.

Madeleines, or if you prefer, teacakes

Several weeks ago, we took a short trip to Lorraine, France to check out some World War II historical sites, as well as to eat some quiche lorraine at the source. One thing I hadn’t realized is that in the province of Lorraine is the town of Commercy, famous for madeleines. Madeleines are, of course, the famous little cakes that triggered the memories that triggered Proust’s novel A la recherche de temps perdu, (Rememberance of Things Past). (And no, I’m not the preeminent Proust scholar in the country.)

I mentioned that we were going to the region where madeleines were invented to the 10-year-old. I told her they were the cute little shell-shaped cakes. She immediately recounted her Remembrance of Madeleines Past. “Oh yeah, madeleines. I remember we were in Starbucks once and you wouldn’t buy one for me.” Doh! So I let her know that, “Yeah, but now you get to have madeleines that are actually good.”

Although we didn’t get to Commercy, she was able to have one for dessert in the town of Verdun. While we were there, I went into a hardware store to buy a couple of madeleine tins. The ones that are tinned metal rather than non-stick are actually kind of hard to find here in Holland. Some of these local little hardware stores are really weird in rural France. Right next to vacuum cleaner bags, you might find a full array of Le Creuset cookware in all colors. Anyway, I found the tins (6 euros each!) and tried to find the checkout counter. First of all, let me say that this store clearly hadn’t changed since 1964. And neither had its clientele. I was the only one there under the age of, oh, 60 or so. And did I mention the lighting was like it was a garage? And there was no heat on so the proprietors were wearing their winter coats? So after waiting in line for what seemed like forever, I had to ditch the pans and leave because 1) there didn’t appear to be a cash register anywhere in site, and 2) Kyle was waiting outside for me with a screaming baby.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find those same pans here– only non-stick and silicone. So in the meantime, tiny tin brioche pans have had to do. So maybe these technically aren’t madeleines then, but teacakes. They are a bit on the dense and slightly dry side (as true madeleines are), but I’ve given them a bit of an orange flavor, and they are really nice for dunking in coffee or tea, if you want to go all Proust on it.

These are really easy to make — it is basically a standard genoise batter spooned into smaller molds. Have all ingredients at room temperature, particularly the eggs, as this is an important factor. As there is no leavener, make sure to beat the eggs until they’ve tripled in volume. They will give the cakes their lift. As a result, it’s important to use the batter right away.

Teacakes not Madeleines
Makes 24 teacakes

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
zest from one orange
pinch salt
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted then cooled to room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C). Butter and flour the molds, generously. This is really important if you are using standard tins, but do it anyway if you are using non-stick because it will still make removal easier.
  2. Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on medium-high until it has tripled in volume and a ribbon forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in the orange zest and salt.
  3. Sprinkle one third of the flour over the egg mixture. Gently fold it in until combined. Repeat twice more, with the rest of the flour, being sure to fold as gently as possible.
  4. Place the butter in a medium bowl. Stir in one third of the egg/flour mixture. Pour the butter/egg/flour mixture back into the rest of the batter, making sure, once again to fold as gently as possible.
  5. Pour immediately into the molds. Bake for 10 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the molds for 5 minutes then remove to a rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Comfort and katsu

The other day I was filling in some profile information on Chowhound, such as location, website, blah blah blah, but because it’s a foodie message board, it had some interesting ones like “The best meal you ever had.” I had to think for a second on the one labeled, “Favorite comfort food.” What is my favorite comfort food? I guess for me, what it ultimately means is not just what gives me comfort to eat, but what dish am I happy to cook, and what does my family like to eat over and over again.

My friends Melinda and Mark just moved to Hawaii recently. After the envy subsided, I started–of course–thinking about lunch. Hawaiian plate lunch, specifically. Oh, you don’t know what plate lunch is? Let me tell you– it is basically the ultimate comfort food for an Asian. It’s typically some sort of meat (you choose) served with heaps of rice and a huge scoop of mac salad. Double starching it– oh yeah! (I love the double starch. At home whenever I make mashed potatoes, we end up eating it with rice.) The Filipino version of the ABC motto should be “Always Be Carb-loading”.

I realized then that actually my favorite home-cooked comfort food is something that definitely falls into plate lunch world: Katsu chicken. This is totally my kids’ favorite dish and about the easiest thing in the world to make. Basically it’s chicken cutlet, but with panko breadcrumbs and served with rice and tonkatsu sauce. It’s like, Asian chicken fingers or something. And it is delish. We eat so much katsu at home that when we moved to Holland, I was really worried about something that seems relatively minor to most anyone else: Where would I get tonkatsu sauce? My four-year-old basically needs to drown his rice in the sauce when we eat katsu, so you can’t underestimate the importance of the sauce. (Otherwise, it’s just fried chicken and rice, right?) I had an elaborate plan of asking all visitors from the States to bring us a bottle each time they visited, and then we would build up a stockpile. But no need, in the end I randomly found the famous Bulldog label glowering at me from the shelf at a Chinese grocery in the Hague. Yes, it was like 5 euros for a small bottle. But who cares at that point?

So pour on the Bulldog, and maybe even make some macaroni salad. Put on some Iz and at least you can pretend you’re in the islands. And Mark and Melinda: eat some malasadas for me– those donuts beat Crispy Creme any day!

Katsu Chicken
serves 4
Don’t bother if you don’t have panko breadcrumbs; it absolutely will not be the same. If you can, try honey panko. It has a very subtle sweetness to it (and smells lovely when you pour it into the bowl.)

1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup Japanese panko breadcrumbs
2 cups canola oil (or any other light-colored oil, such as sunflower oil, which is what I prefer)

  1. With a sharp chef’s knife, split the chicken breasts lengthwise so you have two equal pieces. (this will make the chicken flatter so it cooks faster when you deep fry it.) Pound (but not too thin) to equal thickness all over. Pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in one bowl. Beat the eggs lightly in a second bowl. Place the panko in a large, shallow bowl or pie plate.
  3. Bread the chicken in the typical assembly line: flour first, then eggs, then panko. Shake off excess after each step. Place the breaded pieces on a plate.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy 3 or 4-quart saucepan to 325 degrees (I always use a candy thermometer.)
  5. Fry the chicken in batches, 1-2 minutes on each side. Place the finished pieces on a cooling rack to stay crispy (I noticed that they get a bit soggier if you put them on paper towels, so a cooling rack does a better job.)
  6. Serve with tonkatsu sauce and heaps and heaps of steaming white rice.

Don’t forget the Bulldog!

R to the izzo

Dried porcini mushrooms

While in Bergamo, Italy, I bought some local dried porcini mushrooms as recommended by our friend Donatella. (An aside: let me tell you– it is soooo nice travelling with someone local to ask all the questions and tell you where to go! And she knows her food, so that’s an added bonus.) I brought them home and what’s the natural thing to do with them? Make risotto, of course.

Some notes: Risotto is usually stirred constantly while cooking. I’ve found that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case (although maybe some like the arm workout.) I add the first couple cups of stock straightaway, cover, and let it simmer away for eight minutes or so, until the stock is mostly absorbed. This way, it’s off to a rockin start, and you just have to do the stir-and-add-stock for the last ten minutes of cooking or so. Plus, you can make a salad and slice up some bread in the meantime.

If you have a risotto method that you already like– go for it. Just because I’m lazy doesn’t mean you have to follow me!

Risotto with dried porcini mushrooms
4-5 servings

30 grams dried porcini mushrooms
5 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons sea salt
1-3/4 cups arborio rice
A small handful of fresh sage leaves, minced
Grana Padano, for grating

  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the soaking liquid to the chicken stock. Chop the mushrooms very fine.
  2. Place the stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Make sure it’s on the burner next to the one you’ll be using for the risotto. The stock will stay over the low heat as you cook the risotto.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the shallots, sauteing them until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and continue stirring and cooking for a minute or two.
  4. Add the mushrooms and wine. Stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
  5. Add 2 cups stock and the salt, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed, 8-10 minutes.
  6. Uncover, add 1/2 cup stock and stir until, again, mostly absorbed. Continue adding the stock in 1/2 cup increments until its finished. The mixture should be quite creamy, but the rice will still have just a hint of chew. Taste for salt.
  7. Sprinkle the sage over the rice and pass the cheese for grating.

Milan and Bergamo, Italy

Doorknocker in Cittá Alta, Bergamo

We spent the other week in Bergamo, Italy, which is 45 kilometers outside of Milan. It was excellent to visit our friends Donatella and John and their daughter (who is good friends with my daughter), catch up, sightsee, and of course, eat.

This is what I’m still dreaming about. When we were in Milan, Donatella took us to an unassuming little bakery called Luini where they have a classic version of Italian street food: panzerotti. It is basically a yeast-risen dough, filled with mozzerella and tomato, then fried til crispy. It is so simple and unassuming. And yet, I am totally obsessed with it.

And, as you can see by this line, I’m not the only one obsessed with it.

We spent most of our time in Bergamo, where one famed local dish is casoncelli alla bergamasca. It is a pasta stuffed with meat, folded into half moons, then served in a butter, bacon and sage sauce. Oh, and then topped with Parmesan cheese. Okay, how can you go wrong: pasta? butter? bacon? For the love of Mario Batali, this was so delish, we had it at least three times.

The town is also famous for the confection called polenta e osei, a spongecake typically filled with apricot jam, rolled in sugar, and topped with a tiny chocolate bird. This is meant to resemble polenta, which is an essential Lombardian staple dish.

Donatella is a wonderful cook, so she made us risotto alla milanese, so simple and delish, and then an excellent shrimp dish with saffron. We ate way too much pizza. Yes, it is not overrated: pizza in Italy is way, way better than pizza anywhere else. It was like, every time I had pizza it was better than any pizza I’ve ever eaten. That’s saying something!

Oh yeah, and ice cream: We naturally had ice cream every day, but the two best gelaterie that we went to were Grom in Milan and Verderosa in Bergamo. Both use organic ingredients and are artigianale, which means all-natural ingredients and made on site.

I was too distracted by the lines and the deliciousness of the gelato at Verderosa to snap any pictures, otherwise I would have tried to participate in Ms Adventures in Italy’s Tour del Gelato.

The baby snacking on what’s left of a cone outside of Gelateria Verderosa in Bergamo

The kids at the Piazza Santa Ana (with the little guy rocking– what’s that?– a Crispy Waffle shirt!)

Lions at the fountain, Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo

I came back armed with dried porcini mushrooms, so next post: mushroom risotto!

Gelateria Grom
Ms Adventures in Italy: Tour del Gelato

Copyright © 2004–2009. All rights reserved.

RSS Feed. This blog powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix.