Tag Archives: dessert

Home is where the heart is

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Today’s post is not about food or recipes. It is not about one of my silly stories either. Today’s post is about something important that recently happened to me.

You see that little blue book with the golden eagle on the cover? Yup, it is mine and the big news is… I’m proud to say that I’ve recently become an American citizen!

We have called the East Coast of the United States home for many years now and it has been a wonderful, caring and nurturing home to all of us. I’m very excited that I can now fully take part in the country’s political life by exercising my right to vote and give my contribution, no matter how small.

My family and most of my friends are very excited for me. A handful of friends who have never lived here asked me what all the fuss is about since there are so many other beautiful countries (including my native one) where one can live in.

Oh well, let me tell you in a few words what all the fuss is about.

I think that every country is beautiful in its own, unique way.  Every country has wonderful things to offer and each one has its own, peculiar problems and issues that need to be fixed. Italy is not an exception and neither is the US.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

However, speaking of the US, the following are two of the most important reasons that, in my view, make this such a great country.

Firstly, this is a country where you feel and are truly free to be whoever and whatever you want to be without being judged or categorized. This is a country where freedom in terms of religious beliefs, sexual orientations and race are not just beautiful words on an historical piece of paper preserved behind a sheet of glass! Of course, this is a generalization because for starters the US is a huge country and your mileage may vary depending on where in the US you live. Also, there is no country on earth that is immune to intolerance and ignorance. Those are vicious diseases that afflict the entire humanity and it is up to any decent human being to give their contribution to contain them as much as possible. Let’s just say that, since we moved to the Eastern Coast of the US, we have been lucky enough to live in places and communities where human beings peacefully coexist and respect one another no matter where they come from, what they do for a living, what their religion or shade of skin is and regardless of whether they are straight or gay and – this – my friends, is a true blessing.

Secondly, the US is known as a land of opportunity. This is not just a promotional catchphrase. It is the sacrosanct truth. This is a country that values and fosters talent and skills above all and whose educational system and work environment are based on meritocracy and reward intelligent, honest and hard working individuals. If you are smart and willing to work hard and with integrity, the Star-Spangled Banner’s land will give you an opportunity and then it is up to you to seize it and make the best of it. Of course, this is once again a generalization, but I can talk only from experience and so far ours hasn’t proved me wrong.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Now, bear with me a little longer, if you will, and let me give you a brief account of the oath ceremony, which is the last step in the process to become a United States citizen at the end of which a judge of the competent local court hands you your certificate of naturalization. It is a very beautiful and touching ceremony.

That morning Stefano, Her Majesty and I along with 55 other people and their respective families showed up in court in a state of excitement mixed with mild apprehension since we didn’t know exactly what to expect.

The court staff was professional and courteous and the “check-in” formalities were carried out in an organized way. Once we were all accounted for, the judge showed up and gave us a beautiful speech about this country which made me feel proud to be about to become one of its citizens. After reciting the pledge of allegiance and being sworn in, each of us was called and delivered their certificate of naturalization. The judge was cheerful and patient and at the end of the ceremony he took the time to pose with each family for multiple photographs.

During the ceremony, I kept looking around me and I saw people of I don’t even know how many nationalities. At the beginning, I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with most of them. However, by the end of the ceremony, I realized I was wrong. All the people in that court room had something in common with one another. Not just something, but a dream that was about to come true for all of us and our families at the very same time.

Later that morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend. She is relatively new to my life (even though letting new people into my world is not exactly my forte) and she had been supportive all the way – she is the one who gave me the beautiful white, red and blue flower bouquet to celebrate the outcome of my English/History interview that I previously published photographs of.

That morning she surprised me with the work of art that you see in the last photograph of this post. It’s a heart-shaped map representing the three places on earth that I love the most: Rome, my hometown, New York, where it all began, and Fairfield, the place I now call home. It was so unexpected. And so thoughtful that it left me speechless and, believe me, it doesn’t happen often. I love this present more than I can say and I will always treasure it – along with the heartwarming thought of the friend who gave it to me.

I wish you and your families a wonderful and happy holiday season.

Francesca Xx

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

Doing it my way: Strawberry and Pastry Cream Puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

I have a set of rules I try to live by every day. One of them is never to judge others and stay away from judgmental people as much as I try to avoid contagious diseases.

I like to live my life the way I please without having my choices as a person, woman or mother judged by anyone. By the same token, I don’t judge anyone and I think that  anyone should be allowed to do or say whatever they want as long as everything happens in a polite and respectful way. I don’t think there is always one right way or answer when it comes to big themes of life such as marriage or parenthood: what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean that one way is better than the other one.

Today I’m once again sharing my experience and feelings with you about something that happened to me without any further agenda. Today it is just me being me.

As you know, I don’t have a sweet tooth but Her Majesty does. A big one! Since she was in kindergarten, she has been asking me to make cookies and cakes for school parties and home playdates. To be honest with you, I wasn’t that keen to do it, mainly because of the various food allergies that Her Majesty’s schoolmates and friends suffer from. God forbids any kid gets an allergic reaction to something I have made! Just the thought makes me hyperventilate! Anyway, one day I decided to put aside my anxiety and fears and make her happy. 

The cookies and cakes I make come from the most traditional Italian cuisine: they are made from very few basic ingredients and lots of fruit or jam. I’m not against the general concept of kids eating a treat. I just believe that some treats are healthier than others and I try not to let Her Majesty eat super-sugary and super-rich sweets. Less is more doesn’t work only in fashion!

False modesty aside, my food usually gets some pretty enthusiastic reactions and I had no reason to believe that it would be any different this time. To my huge disappointment, most of the kids simply ignored my treats and went for the more colorful, sprinkled, super-sweet and most of the times store-bought cakes and cookies.

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

What did I do as a result? Oh well, another mother – a better mother – would probably have found some sort of common ground by both changing the recipes of her treats to make them more appealing to the toddlers and trying to educate them to a healthier taste at the same time. The point is that I’m not that kind of mother. I’m the kind of mother that, on the night of the school open house, reading the letter that her daughter left for her mommy on her school desk noticed that her nine-year old daughter misspelled one word and wrote her back saying that she made a mistake, while her father watched the whole thing in disbelief, thinking about how many therapy sessions his daughter would need to go through in order to cope with a mother like that and overcome the trauma… 😉

So back to what I did. I quit! I decided I didn’t need the aggravation (and yes, my pride had been hurt!) and I stopped cooking for school parties and playdates altogether. Every time Her Majesty had a playdate, I made sure I had plenty of fruit so I could offer fruit shakes and fruit salads as a snack. And the Evil Queen kept dismissing the never ending requests of Her Majesty for her to change her mind and lived happily ever after! Or at least she thought so!

Recently things have started changing, mainly for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Her Majesty and her girlfriends have been paying more attention to what they eat lately. They are reaching that age when they get more body-conscious because they see their body changing and they start realizing that the lucky time when they can eat whatever they want to without gaining an ounce of weight is unfortunately coming to an end. Mothers play a big role too. Her Majesty’s best friend is the only kid I know that doesn’t eat burgers. Her mother is a very well-educated woman and she had the intelligence to teach her daughter over the years how to eat healthy and how to eat everything (except burgers, that is!) in moderation.

Secondly, some of Her Majesty’s girlfriends have Italian ancestors and are fascinated by Italian lifestyle and customs. When they come over, they ask me if this or that is authentic Italian food and they are eager to taste the real thing.

Soooo, making a long story short, I’m still not volunteering for any school event, but I’m willing to make treats for playdates when Her Majesty begs me to!

For our last playdate, the begging had been going on and on for over two weeks and, taken by exhaustion, I yielded!

Her Majesty adores pastry cream, so I decided to make these very simple and yet delicious puffs: puff pastry, vanilla pastry cream, fresh strawberries, some powder sugar, a bit of your time and… voila’! Les jeux sont faits! Can’t get any better than this! 😉

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Ingredients:

2 sheets, frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 lb box of strawberries
3 Cups, whole milk
3 Tbsp, sugar
2 yolks
4 Tbsp, flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 vanilla bean
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Wash the strawberries under running water and let them dry completely. Slice the strawberries and put them aside.

Lay the sheets of pastry on a floured surface. If there is any crack in the pastry, press together to seal and roll over the sealed part so that you have a smooth sheet.

Cut each pastry sheet into rectangles of the same size. Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the pastry rectangles on the parchment paper and bake them according to the directions on the puff pastry box. When ready, remove the pastry rectangles from the oven and let them cool completely.

In the meanwhile, in a small pot, pour the milk and add the lemon zest. Cut the quarter vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the help of a knife, gently scrape the seeds out of the bean and add the seeds to the milk.

Start warming the milk on a very low heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg and the sugar. Add the flour and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

When the milk is hot, remove it from the stove and, with the help of a colander, filter the milk in order to eliminate the lemon zest. Put the milk back on the stove on a very low heat, add the egg mixture to the milk and keep whisking for 10/15 minutes or until you obtain a smooth cream.

Take one pastry rectangle, place some pastry cream on top of it and add the strawberry slices on top of the pastry cream, placing them into two adjacent rows. Take another pastry rectangle and put it on top of the strawberries. Dust with some powdered sugar. Repeat the same process for the rest of the pastry rectangles.

As I said: easy peasy lemon squeezy! 😉

Have a wonderful week!

F. Xx

Full Report On Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2015 – Part III (Southern Italy and Islands)

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

In this third and last chapter of my report on Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event, you will find my tasting notes for those producers from southern Italy and the two main islands (Sardinia and Sicily) that I enjoyed the most among those that I tasted at the event. It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete and that there were many more very good wines at the event that are not listed on this post.

For more information about the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event and my tasting notes for northern Italian producers, please refer to the first chapter of my report, while for my tasting notes for central Italian producers, please refer to the second chapter of my report.

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1. CAMPANIA

Alois, Trebulanum 2011 ($N/A): an interesting, varietal Casavecchia red wine (a black-berried grape indigenous to Campania) with aromas of ripe cherry, Mediterranean brush, aromatic herbs and coffee, along with a smooth, tasty mouthfeel with supple tannins and flavors revolving around cherry and licorice. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Nanni Copè, Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco 2012 (~$55): this is one of my favorite producers and red wines from Campania, a 90% Pallagrello Nero blend – one of Campania’s indigenous varieties. Vintage 2012 confirms the great quality of this wine, with a pleasant bouquet of Mediterranean brush, vanilla, tart cherry, herbs and tobacco and a luscious mouthfeel with flavors of red fruit, cocoa and minerals, along with gentle tannins and a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding – $$$

Pietracupa, Fiano di Avellino 2013 (~$25): a good Fiano, with nice aromas of citrus, tangerine, peach and aromatic herbs (thyme?) complemented by a smooth and tasty mouthfeel with moderate acidity and mineral notes. Good to Very Good and good value for money Good to Very Good – $$

2. BASILICATA

Cantine del Notaio, Aglianico del Vulture “Il Repertorio” 2012 (~$20): a varietal Aglianico with an appealing although slightly muted bouquet of black cherry, cocoa, soil and mineral notes, coupled with a powerful mouthfeel of black cherry, licorice, coffee and rhubarb and muscular tannins. Certainly it is no match for its top of the line, delicious “sibling” known as “Il Sigillo”, but for a $20 Aglianico this delivers lots of bang for the buck. Good and very good value for money Good – $

3. CALABRIA

Librandi, Magno Megonio 2012 (~$22): a 100% Magliocco (a black-berried variety originating from Calabria) red wine from one of Calabria’s best producers, with aromas of cherry jam, Mediterranean brush, soil, barnyard notes and mineral hints, coupled with a pleasant mouthfeel of cherry, licorice and cocoa, good structure and noticeable but gentle tannins. Good and good value for money Good – $$

4. SARDEGNA

Cantina di Santadi, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore “Terre Brune” 2010 (~$57): Italy’s beautiful Sardinia island produces some outstanding wines, and yet most of them almost go unnoticed to the general public, especially outside of Italy. The Terre Brune is a perfect example: it is an elegant wine with a great bouquet of cherry, herbs, Mediterranean brush, juniper and balsamic notes, complementing a lusciously smooth mouthfeel echoing its aromatic palette. Outstanding Outstanding – $$$

Tenute Sella & Mosca, Alghero Rosso “Marchese di Villamarina” 2009 (~$55): all hail this Sardinian varietal rendition of ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, offering a bouquet revolving around Mediterranean brush aromas, black cherry, blackcurrant, rose, licorice and cocoa, complementing a smoothly coherent mouthfeel, where its full body does not diminish the wine’s composed elegance and long finish. Spectacular and good value for money Spectacular – $$$

5. SICILIA

Cusumano, Sagana 2012 (~$36): this varietal Nero d’Avola has enticing aromas of black cherry and plum jam, licorice, rose and Mediterranean brush, coupled with a smooth mouthfeel where the substantial ABV is well integrated and balanced with its gentle tannins and refreshing acidity. Very Good Very Good – $$

Cusumano, Moscato dello Zucco 2010 (~$40 – 500 ml bottle): an excellent 100% Moscato Bianco sweet wine, with an appealing bouquet of dried apricot, acacia honey, sage, aromatic herbs and candied tangerine, together with a perfectly balanced mouthfeel where the wine’s acidity and tastiness are just the right counterpoint to its luscious sweetness. Outstanding Outstanding – $$

Donnafugata, Passito di Pantelleria “Ben Ryé” 2012 (~$35 – 375 ml bottle): as regular readers may know by now, this is one of my absolute favorite sweet raisin wines and it never disappoints. The newly released 2012 vintage of this varietal Moscato d’Alessandria (AKA Zibibbo) wine is outstanding and captivating as always, with a sensuous bouquet of ripe apricot, honey, sugar candy and raisins, accompanied by a dreamlike matching mouthfeel of interminable length where acidity and sapidity masterfully contrast the addictive sweetness of this memorable wine. Outstanding Outstanding – $$

Graci, Etna Rosso “Contrada Arcuria” 2012 ($N/A): along with a handful of other Sicilian quality producers, Graci is a testament to today’s renaissance of Sicilian wines and varieties, especially those indigenous grapes that grow on the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. The “Contrada Arcuria” is one such example: it is a varietal Nerello Mascalese (a Sicilian black-berried grape) from the Etna region that delivers a wow bouquet of red wild berries, licorice, aromatic herbs, Mediterranean brush and leather notes, coupled with a refined mouthfeel matching the wine’s aromatic profile. I would cellar it for a couple of years to fully tame its tannins and let it become entirely coherent. Very Good Very Good

Planeta, Nerello Mascalese “Eruzione 1614” 2012 (~$32): another noteworthy varietal Nerello Mascalese wine with intriguing aromas of sage, herbs, black cherry, cocoa, licorice and mineral notes, as well as a bold mouthfeel with a robust structure, high ABV and noticeable but refined tannins. It will benefit from a couple of years of cellaring before enjoying it. Very Good and good value for money Very Good – $$

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani “Rosso del Conte” 2010 (~$60): a Bordeaux-style red blend based on Nero d’Avola with an appealing bouquet of blackberry, ripe black cherry, Mediterranean brush, dark chocolate and tobacco, along with an enticing mouthfeel of ripe cherry, cola and cocoa, silky tannins, noticeable sapidity and a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding – $$$

Full Report On Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2015 – Part I (Northern Italy)

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

A couple of weeks ago was that time of the year yet again, when I got to participate (along with my good friend Anatoli, AKA Talk-A-Vino) in one of the most eagerly anticipated Italian wine events in New York City reserved to media and trade: Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC. As you may know, only those Italian wineries that are awarded the coveted “Tre Bicchieri” (i.e., three glasses) top ranking in the Gambero Rosso wine guide are invited to participate in the event.

This year 180 wineries were represented at the Tre Bicchieri event, just the same as last year, presenting some of their best wines to media and trade.

The organization of the event was okay, except the totally unintuitive (at least to me) order of the tasting tables and the lack of an index of the participating wineries that would group them by region. I realize that it is useful to group them by importer (the way the index is currently structured), but there should also be an index by region, so that if one looks for a specific winery and does not know who their importer is, does not get to flip through the entire booklet to find out which table they are at. I seriously hope the organizers will consider improving the event booklet to fix this annoyance.

In order to keep post size manageable, I have broken down my report into three chapters: Northern Italy, Central Italy and Southern Italy (including the islands). In this post you will find my tasting notes for my selection of the northern Italian producers.

As always for this kind of events, I am going to list below those wines that impressed me most among the many great ones that I got to taste, grouped by region. It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete and that there were many more very good wines at the event that are not listed on this post.

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1. TRENTINO

Ferrari, Trento Brut “Giulio Ferrari” Riserva del Fondatore 2004 (~$110): a wonderful Italian Classic Method vintage sparkler from the renown Trento DOC appellation. This top of the Ferrari line sparkling wine is a Blanc de Blancs made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged on the lees for 10 years(!) Even beside its rich golden hues and superfine perlage, this wine proves to be a true sensory pleasure that first entices you with a fabulous bouquet of fresh pastry, sugar candy, confetti (in the Italian sense of the traditional sugar-coated almond candy that newly weds offer their guests), vanilla, tangerine and white flowers, and then captivates you with its fresh acidity and tasty sapidity that wonderfully counterbalance its silky smoothness and creamy structure. Spectacular Spectacular – $$$$$

2. ALTO ADIGE

Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige Gewürztraminer “Nussbaumer” 2013 (~$32): it lures you in right at the onset with a wow bouquet of tropical fruit, passion fruit, tangerine, citrus, wisteria, face powder and briny notes complementing an equally exquisite mouthfeel that precisely replicates the wine’s aromatic profile and delivers vibrant acidity and sapidity masterfully counterbalanced by a creamy smoothness. Outstanding Outstanding – $$

Elena Walch, Alto Adige Merlot “Kastelaz” Riserva 2011 (~$55): I love Elena Walch and her wines, although I have been trying hard to taste her Kermesse for years now only unsuccessfully. My quest goes on… I liked the Merlot Kastelaz that I tasted: it had nice aromas of blackberry, herbs and potpourri as well as a pleasant, round mouthfeel with flavors of blackberries, coffee and cocoa and silky tannins. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $$$

Erste+Neue, Alto Adige “Anthos” Bianco Passito 2010 ($N/A): this delicious, golden sweet white wine is a blend of 50% Moscato Giallo and equal parts of Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. Its aromas range from honey to freshly baked pastry to candied peach, ripe pineapple and orange blossoms, while its mouthfeel offers a brisk acidity and distinct sapidity to offset the wine’s sweetness. Very Good Very Good

Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein “Abtei Muri” Riserva 2011 (~$30): an excellent Lagrein with a nice bouquet of blueberry, blackberry jam, red flowers, dark chocolate and wet soil coupled with a full-bodied but smooth mouthfeel trailing its aromatic palette and ending in a slightly peppery note. Very Good and good value for money Very Good – $$

St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” 2013 (~$34): a pleasant Northern Italian Sauvignon Blanc with an expressive bouquet of nettle, lime, grapefruit, herbaceous notes, boxwood, a touch of butter and mineral hints, as well as a great, coherent mouthfeel, where its high ABV and gentle smoothness are perfectly balanced by its intense sapidity and zippy acidity. You can read our full review of this wine on a previous post. Very Good Very Good – $$

3. FRIULI

Jermann, W… Dreams… 2012 (~$55): a classic, wonderful Jermann-style Chardonnay, with a bouquet of toasted almond, citrus, peach, freshly toast bread and a slight smokey note, along with a structured mouthfeel where the alcohol is well balanced by the wine’s sapidity. Very Good Very Good – $$$

Lis Neris, Friuli Isonzo Pinot Grigio “Gris” 2012 (~$40): a wonderful Pinot Grigio that reconciles you with a variety that unfortunately is at the core of so many bland, unexciting wines. This one immediately piques your interest with appealing aromas of tangerine, orange blossoms, citrus, aromatic herbs, gunpowder and minerals, and then totally wins you over with a delicious mouthfeel delivering a burst of minerality and juxtaposing a refreshing acidity with a silky smoothness. Outstanding Outstanding – $$

Volpe Pasini, Colli Orientali del Friuli Sauvignon “Zuc di Volpe” 2013 (~$25): a great Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of boxwood, citrus, sage, lavender, aromatic herbs and mineral notes, complementing a refreshing mouthfeel that matches its aromatic profile and delights with vibrant acidity and sapidity. Outstanding and great value for money Outstanding – $$

4. PIEMONTE

Bel Colle, Barolo Monvigliero 2009 (~$65): a very promising Barolo, which is still in its youth, with fine aromas of cherry, coconut, vanilla and roses along with a full-bodied mouthfeel with quite astringent tannins that will require a few years of cellaring to smooth out. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $$$$

Braida, Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’Uccellone” 2012 (~$65): an excellent quality Barbera, with a bouquet of black cherry, blackberry, licorice, cocoa and ground coffee, along with a full-bodied structure and robust ABV that is well balanced by well integrated tannins and sapidity. Long finish. Very Good Very Good – $$$$

Damilano, Barolo Brunate 2010 (~$65): a solid Barolo that was a little muted on the nose, with aromas of cherry, rose, forest floor, quinine and mineral notes, complementing a structured mouthfeel with flavors of cherry, extra dark chocolate, black pepper, aromatic herbs and quinine, along with muscular tannins that will need time to mellow and fully integrate, plus a long finish ending in a slightly bitter note. Still very young. Very Good, provided it is given adequate cellaring time Very Good – $$$$

Elvio Cogno, Barolo “Bricco Pernice” 2009 (~$65): for me one of the “wow” Barolo’s in the show, with a wonderful bouquet of cherry, cranberry, tobacco, potpourri and forest floor and an already very balanced mouthfeel evoking flavors of cherry, licorice, coffee, dark chocolate and notes of black pepper in a smooth, structured sip where the alcohol is well balanced by good acidity and soft tannins. Outstanding Outstanding – $$$$

Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Barolo Cannubi 2010 (~$60): pleasing, intense aromas of cherry, herbs and mineral notes, along with matching mouth flavors and slightly astringent tannins – still very young but definitely promising, needs time to mature. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $$$

5. LOMBARDIA

Bellavista, Franciacorta Brut Cuvée Alma NV ($N/A): a very good Classic Method sparkling wine with fine bubbles and aromas of lime, lemon zest, croissant, petit four and white blossoms plus a citrusy mouthfeel characterized by zippy acidity and sapidity. Very Good Very Good

Contadi Castaldi, Franciacorta Zero 2010 ($N/A): another solid Classic Method sparkler with a fine perlage and a bouquet of freshly baked pastry, citrus, sugar candy, canestrelli (a typical Italian daisy flower-shaped cookie dusted with confectionery sugar) and mineral notes complementing a matching mouthfeel that is vibrant with lively acidity. Very Good Very Good

6. VENETO

Begali, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Vigneto Monte Ca’ Bianca” 2009 (~$50): a solid Amarone with a broad bouquet of cranberry, cherry, red fruit candy, rose, aromatic herbs, tobacco and incense, complementing a full-bodied mouthfeel trailing the wine’s aromas and showcasing muscular tannins, for which a few years of judicious cellaring would be advisable. Very Good Very Good – $$$

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Costasera” Riserva 2009 (~$40): the Costasera never lets down and the 2009 vintage reinforces the concept, delivering a great Amarone with aromas of tart cherry, underbrush, quinine, barnyard and balsamic notes, along with a powerful and yet well controlled and smooth mouthfeel reminiscent of tart cherry, coffee, cocoa and mineral notes, as well as a long finish. Cellar it and forget it for a few years for best results. Outstanding and good value for money Outstanding – $$

So little time in the kitchen: peach and chocolate chips mini tarte tatins

Mini peach tarte tatinsHello everyone!

Hope you are having a glorious summer!

As a food blogger, I know I’m expected to share recipes, tips and culinary adventures that I have experienced during my stay in Italy, but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed … or maybe not! 😉

As I said on several occasion, cooking is just one of my passions. There are so many other things I tremendously enjoy. One of these things is resuming my royal role of daughter every time I go back to my country. 🙂

You see, I was a very lucky, spoiled girl who never had to deal with any domestic chore for as long as I lived at home with my parents. When I left that house to play the role of an independent woman and a wife, I realized that real life was quite different from the one I was used to and it was kind of shocking to me but that’s another story! 😉

Anyway, truth to be told I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I entered my mother’s kitchen to cook something during my stay.

I happen to have made the recipe I am going to share with you today during one of those miraculous times (as my mom likes to put it! 😉 ).

It was a Saturday of a very hot Italian summer and I had terrific plans for the day: taking Her Majesty to her swimming class, having lunch on the terrace of the yacht club and spending the entire afternoon on the beach reading, swimming and sun bathing. That morning I was daydreaming in my bed when my mother announced me that she had invited twelve guests for dinner that night and asked me if I could take care of the dessert.

Now, you can understand my predicament! I didn’t want to change my plans, not even a bit, but I didn’t feel like not helping my mom either. While brushing my teeth (I get a lot of ideas brushing my teeth 😉 ), the thought of a very simplified version of mini tarte tatins came to my rescue.

These little treats are very easy to make, even ahead of time if you have a busy day, and they look and taste wonderful. The combination of peach and chocolate is one of my favorites and I still have to meet a human being that doesn’t go for it.

So how did it go? Dinner was scheduled for 9:00pm (yup, that’s how we roll at my parents’ house!). I came back from the beach late afternoon and I had plenty of time to make the tarte tatins and be ready to help my mother serve the aperitivo to her guests. Our guests devoured the mini tarte tatins and I had exactly the day that I planned. In other words, those little beauties saved my day and, hopefully, they may do the same for you! 🙂

Mini peach tarte tatins

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/3 Cup, chocolate chips
1 Cup, confectioner’s sugar
1 yolk
1 Tbsp, milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Peel the peaches, slice them and set them aside.

Mini peach tarte tatinsLay the sheet of pastry on a floured surface and roll over so that you have a smooth sheet. Following the same technique to make linzer cookies, with a large round cookie cutter (of course you can pick the shape you like best), cut the pastry into rounds and place half of the rounds on the parchment paper. Using a smaller round cookie cutter, cut out the center from the other half of the rounds, put the outer edges of the circles aside and discard the centers as scrap. Combine such scraps, roll and cut again until you have used all your pastry.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk and the milk.

In a non stick pot, combine sugar and about 1 Tbsp of water to make caramel. Bring the mixture to boil and cook until the mixture has thickened and turned amber in color.

Using a spoon (be careful because the caramel is very hot and it’s super easy to get burnt), place some caramel on the pastry solid rounds and add a couple of peach slices and some chocolate chips on top of the caramel.

Press the circle cut rounds on top of the solid ones and brush the edges with the egg wash.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tarte tatins are golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Dust the tarte tatins with some confectioner’s sugar before serving them.

I’m heading over to Italy again this weekend. My first cousin is getting married and, according to my aunt, this wedding will be remembered as much as that of William & Kate. 😉 Plus, after two months of vacation, it is time for Her Majesty to come back home in time for the first day of school.

I wish you all to enjoy the rest of August. Talk to you soon,

F. Xx

Breaking News: The demise of tiramisu'?

Francesca's TiramisuA few days ago, I read an article on an Italian newspaper that saddened me a bit. Le Beccherie, an Italian restaurant located in Treviso (a town in the northeastern region of Veneto) that is credited for creating one of the most famous spoon desserts the world over, tiramisu’, will close its doors for good on March 30 reportedly due to the long-lasting recession that Italy has been going through during the last years.

The restaurant has been in the Treviso culinary scene for a very long time. It opened on September 1, 1939. Ring any bell? Yes, exactly the same day that World War II started.

In the Sixties, Ada (the wife of the restaurant owner, Aldo Campeol) and pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto, came up with the recipe of tiramisu’ in the kitchen of Le Beccherie by finding inspiration in and elaborating on existing dessert recipes, including that of the restorative, “energizing” desserts that at that time used to be offered to the clients of the… local brothels! See now the reasons for both the name tiramisu’ (that translates into “pick-me-up”) and all those eggs that go into it?… 😉

I was born and raised in Italy, but I have never been to Treviso. And now I will never have the chance to taste the original Tiramisu’ prepared at Le Beccherie. What a shame! 🙁

So, if any of you or someone you know happens to be in Italy in the Treviso area before the end of the month, I suggest you or your friends stop by the restaurant for a taste of the “real tiramisu'”, a delicious milestone in the Italian culinary history.

Wish you all a great week – and of course Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Xx

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving table

Just a quick one to wish all our North American readers Happy Thanksgiving!

Saffron rice croquettes (Arancini di riso)Saffron Rice Croquettes (AKA Arancini di Riso)

Here you can take a peek at our Thanksgiving table and a few of the appetizers and sweet treats that Francesca is making as this very time.

Cauliflower croquettesCauliflower and Ricotta Cheese Croquette

Enjoy the holiday and, quoting our 7-year-old daughter, “be thankful for all good things in life!” 🙂

Mini Key lime piesRevisited Mini Key Lime Pies

PS: if you enjoy Stefano’s photographs, head over to Clicks & Corks for a sweet Thanksgiving promotion! 🙂

Saint Emilion Chronicles #3: les macarons et les cannelés

Stuff We Like!Hello everyone!

This will be my contribution to our ongoing Saint Emilion series. This post is about food, so it naturally belongs to my expertise “department”. 🙂

So, picture it: Saint Emilion, July 2013. We were sitting in Patrick’s wine store, Stefano’s newest “wine friend” (more on Patrick and his wonderful wine store on Stefano’s future posts in this series) and, of course, we were tasting some wine. Getting slightly drunk and jumping from one subject to another, I ended up talking about food. Patrick asked me how I liked Saint Emilion’s macarons. I thought he was talking about those French round mini-cakes with a creamy filling, that the entire world has learned to know and love (by the way, I talked about “those” macarons on a previous post about Ladurée). It turned out I was mistaken, because Saint Emilion’s macarons have nothing to do with those paradisiac sweet sandwiches…

Saint Emilion Macarons

The recipe for Saint Emilion’s macarons was created by the nuns of a religious community founded in 1620. The recipe, which apparently is more secret than that of Coca Cola, has been passed on over the following centuries, eventually ending up in the hands of Madame Blanchez. Today, the only place where your can taste and buy “real” Saint Emilion macarons made according the nuns’ recipe is the Fabrique de Macarons, a store owned by Madame Nadia Fermigier, who is the “successor” of Madame Blanchez. And that store is exactly the place where I was heading to five minutes after Patrick told me the story of Madame Fermigier. 🙂

The store is small, yet incredibly charming. There was even a video showing how macarons are made. But what really struck me when I first got there was the smell. The smell was so outrageously good and inebriating that I had the impression to have stepped into a magical world where everything is alive. And then I saw them: the famous macarons. How can I describe their taste? That’s a tough one. They are delicious beyond words. Just to give you an idea, they reminded us of Italian amaretti – I beg our French readers not to get mad at me for this comparison! 😉

I searched the Web and I saw that there are some Saint Emilion macaron recipes out there. I doubt that you will find the original one, however. I’m pretty sure Madame Fermigier protects her recipe at all cost and swore all her employees to the utmost secrecy. Anyway, if you decide to go for one of the Internet recipes or you are lucky enough to buy the original macarons from Madame Fermigier, you can either taste these small pieces of heaven by themselves or use them to make a gorgeous chocolate-based dessert known as “Saint-Émilion au Chocolat“, the recipe for which has been kindly published by our lovely friend and fellow blogger B on her blog.

Nadia Fermigier's famous pastry shop in Saint Emilion

But this is not all: the other sweet masterpiece that Patrick unveiled to me is the cannelés.

Cannelés are little French cakes with a dark, thick caramelized crust and a moist custard inside. There exist a few different legends about their creation. Of course, one of those legends has the nuns of a convent as its main characters – these French nuns were a hell of a baker, I say!!! 😉 Anyway, the only sure thing is that the recipe was created in the French region of Bordeaux. Indeed, according to some, the Bordeaux winemakers used to clarify their wine with egg whites (Stefano tells me that some still use egg whites as a fining agent today!) and the cannelés were created as a way to utilize the egg yolks.

When I was in Madame Fermigier’s store, I bought (for a small fortune, I might add…) the gorgeous copper molds the French bakers use to make cannelés. The only thing I’m missing now is the right recipe! 😉 I searched the Web and I went through a few of the recipes that I found. However, I would prefer to first try a recipe coming from a “friendly source”. So if any of you, dear readers, has a recipe for cannelés and is willing to share it or has already made a post about it, I would love to hear from you! 🙂

Saint Emilion Cannelé

Well, that’s all for today: I hope you enjoyed this Saint Emilion pastry excursion! Back to you Stefano for the rest of the series and… à bientôt!  😉

An easy-peasy treat: vanilla cream berries

Vanilla cream berries2 Servings

If you have been following our blog, you know by now that I do not have a sweet tooth. Thank goodness for me and my dieting resolution, Stefano does not either. This means that, unless I’m hosting a dinner, we always finish our meals with fruit. However, every rule has an exception and our daughter is more than happy to offer us the occasion to break the routine.

Whenever she craves something sweet, I try to add a twist to her fruit. One of my “twists” is this vanilla cream that goes beautifully with any kind of berry. It takes only a few minutes to make, it’s very light (a detail not to be underestimated considering that the warm season is upon us) and when you are done gulping it down, there is hardly any sense of guilt left around… After all, you just had a bowl of fruit, right? 😉

Ingredients:

1 cup, milk
A quarter of a vanilla bean
1 egg
2 Tbsp, sugar
2 Tbsp, flour
1 cup, diced strawberries
1/2 cup, blueberries

Directions:

In a small pot, pour the milk. Cut the quarter vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the help of a knife, gently scrape the seeds out of the bean and add the seeds to the milk. Start warming the milk on a very low heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg and the sugar. Add the flour and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture. When the milk is hot, add the egg mixture to the milk and keep whisking for 10/15 minutes.

Put the berries in two serving bowls or glasses, pour some of the cream on top of each one and serve while the cream is still warm.

Enjoy!

Ladurée: a world of beauty beyond macarons

Stuff We Like!

This is my first post of our new column so I decided to start in style.

Ladurée… the echo of this brand is called luxury. Of course, I’m talking about the worldwide known French pâtisserie maison founded by the miller, Louis Ernest Ladurée, in Paris at the end of the 19th century. I’m sure all of you are more than familiar with les macarons, Ladurée’s most famous creation: those small, round mini cakes, crisp on the outside, with a smooth filling in the middle, that can satisfy even the more sophisticated palate. When you buy a box of those sweet masterpieces, you are buying much more than dessert. You are buying an icon. Let me tell you a story to prove my point.

As Sophia from the Golden Girls (the famous American sitcom of the ’80s) would say, picture it: London, a few years ago. I was with one of my clients. He was the perfect incarnation of the type of clients I was dealing with back then: highly educated, rich (which didn’t necessarily mean sophisticated), exclusively capable of talking about money and dreaming about more money and totally used to getting whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to. He had been invited to a dinner party by the wife of a gentleman he was anxious to make a deal with and he was determined to impress the hostess. Sure, he could have brought an expensive bottle of wine or champagne but, let’s be honest, this is a gift that would be more appropriate for a host rather than a hostess and he was a huge believer in the saying that “behind every successful man there is always a woman”. Can you prove him wrong? 😉

Anyway, he dragged me into one of the Ladurée stores in London where we waited for quite a while (it was Friday late afternoon and the store was very busy) before reaching the most beautiful and chic pastry counter I have ever seen. Obviously, my client knew exactly what he wanted (those kind of men always know what they want!) He picked a huge green box, gorgeously decorated, and selected the macarons that would determine his destiny, flavor by flavor. As we were leaving the store, I noticed that the people with the unmistakable Ladurée green bag were as thrilled as those people who carry the equally unmistakable Tiffany’s blue bag. Their face was saying “I bought something very, very special and I feel great about it”. Needless to say, a few days later my client called me to tell me that he had made the deal and it was time to get to work.

Display of Ladurée books

What I didn’t know back then is that Ladurée is much more than macarons. Beside the legendary sweets (cakes, pastries and chocolates), they have the cutest shopping bags, one of the most elegant beauty collections, a candle collection to die for, a home fragrance collection I can’t wait to try and… books. Well, Ladurée books are really the subject matter of this post. I know it took me quite a while to get to the point, but here we are.

Ladurée books are not regular books. When you see the marvelous powder pastel boxes these books come in, you know that you are in for something special. You stand there in astonishment and just the boxes can send shivers down your spine. 🙂 Then you open the boxes and, through the tissue paper that wraps all Ladurée books, you sense the luxury and the richness of the covers. When you finally pull yourself together, get the books in your hands and start flipping through them, you are instantly in heaven.

The two must-have Ladurée recipe books are Sucré (Dolce in the Italian version) and Salé (Savory in the English version).

Ladurée's Sucré and Salé

Sucré unveils the pastry secrets of Ladurée Chef Pâtissier, Philippe Andrieu, from the financiers to the rose cream bigné, the crème brûlée, the éclairs and… les macaronsbien sûr, in all their flavors: incredible recipes presented with an impeccable food styling and exquisite photography. The book also contains the indispensable basic pastry recipes, i.e., those recipes that any baker or pastry chef should perfectly master before daring call themselves as such.

Salé is the cooking gem of Ladurée Chef de Cuisine Michel Lerouet and the natural evolution of Sucré because most of the recipes represent the perfect marriage of sweet and savory in the French gastronomy. The book is divided by occasion: brunch, picnic, lunch, formal and informal dinner. Every occasion is an apotheosis of colors and flavors, from sandwiches to salads, soups, eggs, as well as meat, fish and seafood appetizers and main courses, all immortalized by lovely photographs. Not to mention that lots of the recipes are accompanied by tips of Monsieur le Chef, which is something that makes those recipes even more precious.

If Sucré and Salé are books that I think every cook on the planet should own ;-), l’Art de recevoir is a book that anyone, I repeat, anyone should have unless, of course, they live on a deserted island! Once again the book is divided by occasion: ten moments of the day (from breakfasts to family lunches, picnics, afternoon teas, buffet dinners and formal dinners) for which la Maison offers menu ideas and stylish recipes (with the essential chef’s tips), advice and suggestions on how to create elegant table settings and decorations as well as flower arrangements and, last but certainly not least, mini-lessons of savoir-faire. Every page of this book exudes French elegance and style. The china, the glassware, the silverware, the tablecloths, every decorative object used in the settings are stunning and captured by gorgeous photographs. As the book says, “Très chic, Très Ladurée“.

Ladurée's L'Art de recevoir

I suggest you put l’Art de recevoir on your wish list keeping also in mind that this book is the perfect gift for anyone, including those not so crazy about cooking, because everyone aspires to be the perfect host or the perfect hostess and I think no one can resist Ladurée’s allure.

Unfortunately for my American friends, the one and only Ladurée store in the United States is in New York – where else could it be? 😉 However, if you do not live in the city that never sleeps or close by, do not despair: you can still buy these wonders online on amazon. On the other hand, if you live in the City or you happen to be there, make sure to make time to stop by their store on Madison Avenue (again, where else could Ladurée’s store be but the most chic of Manhattan’s Avenues?) because when you push the door it’s like teleportation: in an instant you’ll find yourself in Paris! Is there anything better than that?

À bientôt, mes amis!

PS: do you like my new flower glasses icon for this column? Isn’t that gorgeous? This new icon as well as all the illustrations on Flora’s Table are the artwork of our super talented friend, Alexandra Dichne. Alexandra is in the process of finalizing her soon-to-be launched blog. Of course, I will write a post about it as soon as her blog goes live, so stay tuned!