La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part I, Shopping)

Ciao Readers!

Did you think I forgot you?  Never. I just got busy with language school, leisurely meals…and a cooking class before I left Lucca (and now I am busy with things we lawyers do – not very interesting or delicious blog fodder).  But before the glories of Italian food totally fade from memory, I thought I’d share some of the highlights….

First – and the focus of this post – there is grocery shopping in Italy.  And by “grocery” shopping I don’t necessarily mean going to a grocery store (though if you’re interested in the somewhat amusing “how to” of grocery stores in Italy, check out this earlier post); it will as likely (or more likely) be a cool little outdoor market selling whatever is fresh and local at the time (at this time it was artichokes and strawberries).  Admire some of the market offerings from this past weekend – fruits and veggies and cheeses, oh my!  I am already suffering pangs of longing for the strawberries and cantaloupe I had – why doesn’t the fruit here taste that sweet?!? Then, of course, you can wander into any of the little specialty shops – handmade pumpkin tortoloni, truffle tasting or pistachio cookies anyone?  And no day would be complete without a stop at a panificio (bread shop) for a daily loaf of fresh bread (mine would usually run about 50 cents). It was all so darn YUMMY! (And affordable!) I have to say, I went grocery shopping here yesterday and I was just sad* – look at the fancy lettuces I bought at the grocery store in Italy (last photo)…then zoom in and look at the prices – yes, that’s right – mere cents for fancy speckled radicchio and frisée and baby arugula….

*Of course, when we lived in Italy and ingredients to make Mexican food were nowhere to be found I was equally sad – as they say “L’erba del vicino è sempre piu verde” (roughly, the grass is always greener….)

Next time…join me in my cooking class!

Paris Foodie Wrap-Up

Ciao Readers!

In the next post I’ll be taking you on a very cold boat ride along the Seine, where we’ll be passing some famous sites until we just can’t take the cold anymore!   But before we go on that tour, we’re going to eat breakfast at a local patisserie, stumble upon a Parisian street market and then take the Metro to Lafayette Gourmet to get some picnic supplies for later (and to just generally ogle the food). (Since we’ve already talked about all of the foreign food available here, today we’re sticking with French goodies.)

We discovered our little local patisserie on our first full day in Paris.  While I wish I had photo-staged it better, the quiche I had (pictured below) was seriously the most delicious quiche I have ever eaten – the crust was perfectly buttery and flaky and the filling was pillowy and savory – heavenly!  I was so enamored with this quiche that I decided I would eat one (with different fillings) every morning for the next/last two days of our stay.  Little did I know (until the next morning) that this patisserie is closed on both Saturdays and Sundays (I said “awwwwww” for an inordinate amount of time after seeing the place shuttered Saturday morning).  Well, at least for one day I enjoyed the perfect quiche and Steve a great baguette (I still don’t understand how water, flour and yeast in one country can end up with such a different result than water, flour and yeast in another, but French bread is so much more chewy and substantial than the bread here).

While Saturday left us disappointed upon discovering the patisserie closed, we were happily surprised to see a street market setting up right outside our hotel window.  Paris has these wonderful little street markets that pop-up on specific days of the week in every neighborhood.  While there are also some “bric n’ brac” markets, this was a quintessential Parisian food market – complete with produce and meats and fish…and, of course, cheese!!!  As we didn’t have a kitchen, all we could really do was admire the food (okay, confession – we did later buy some cheese at the grocers and kept it on our window sill overnight [can you imagine storing Camembert inside your hotel room?!]).

So, instead of quiche we “made do” with some buttery pain au chocolates from another local patisserie we passed on the way to the Metro.  We took the Metro to Galeries Lafayette, or, more specifically to the foodie floor, know as “Lafayette Gourmet.”  Not only is this market filled with upscale French and foreign groceries, but there are numerous counters selling freshly prepared food as well as little mini-restaurant stalls with tables to boot.  There’s all of the French food you can picture – from cheese to pastries to foie gras, and even a fish market/restaurant (as well as the foreign food I mentioned in a prior post).   Since you’ve probably figured out I’m a foodie and watch too many shows about food, then hopefully you won’t be too appalled when I tell you that hearing about foie gras all these years had gotten the best of my curiosity.  While I was photographing the foie gras stall I noticed that behind the counter there were very small samples on crackers….I spontaneously felt compelled to ask for one – this is Paris after all and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   So, how was it you ask?  Since I grew up eating chopped liver, I’m used to and like the taste of liver (and hence Tuscan crostini which is topped with it)….it had the taste and consistency of liver-flavored butter (which either sounds delicious or disgusting, depending on your point of view).  While I was happy to have tried it, it’s nothing I ever need or want to eat again, so please no one gorge a duck on my account.

I did buy two treats at Lafayette for our hotel-room picnic that night – some salmon terrine and a mini bottle of Bordeaux.   Add some cheeses and a baguette from the local grocer, and voila – dinner!  (Well, add some pastries, too….).   As always, sorry they haven’t invented taste-o-vision yet, but enjoy!

A Tasting Tour of the Albert Cuyp Market

Ciao Readers!  (Or should I say “Hallo,” as we are in The Netherlands…)  And Happy (early) Birthday Ryn!

Today I am taking you on a tasting tour through the Albert Cuyp Market, a century-old street market running for several blocks throughout the De Pijp neighborhood in Amsterdam.  Albert Cuyp is up and running every day except Sunday, and sells everything you can think of – from books to clothes to all sorts of local and exotic foods.  (Since I have a broken toe, we’ll get to the market via one of the many handy electric trams that run throughout Amsterdam.)

To be honest with you, I can’t really tell you much about what the market sells other than food, as we arrived with empty stomachs and the intention of sampling the local specialties.  As most of the local specialties seem to come in the form of fried foods (there’s an entire wall of fried food vending slots at the train station!), we felt super healthy by starting off at the herring stand.  In the picture below, Steve is being served the traditional herring on a bun by Puck Jansen, the owner of the “Vlaardingse Haring Handel,” who has been working at the market for 44 years!  (Okay, confession time – maybe after reading the name of the stand you will forgive me when I admit I did not even attempt to speak Dutch while in Amsterdam.)  The herring was delicious and eased the guilt of the fried poffertjes that followed (little pancake-like fried dough bathing in butter and powdered sugar), as well as the requisite frites (seriously, it’s a legal requirement that you eat fries in Amsterdam – well, maybe not, but it is a crime if you don’t!).  Having about as much fried deliciousness as we could stand, we decided to pass on the stroopwafels for the time being (thin waffles baked with a caramel-like syrup in the middle), as there were some in the kitchen in our B&B in case we felt the need (we did, later – they were good, but I bet the fresh ones are even better).

While our craving for local treats was sated, we wandered the market still, encountering just a few more things we (okay, I) couldn’t pass up.  In the wonderful nut and candy stand pictured below I was surprised and delighted to discover…roasted pecans!  Well, as you may recall from a previous post, pecans are among the groceries of my dreams, so of course I had to treat myself to a small bag (and they were roast-y and pecan-y and yummy!).   The final culinary triumph happened at the spice market.  There were so many spices hanging in bags on the many racks that I was certain that I could find ground cloves (an ingredient I’ve been missing and searching for here).  The only problem was everything was labeled in Dutch and I couldn’t seem to find anyone to help me.  Undeterred, I started smelling all of the bags that looked liked they might be cloves.   I found one that I thought smelled right – “Kruidnagel Poeder” (which I confirmed later is indeed cloves).  (Dutch is seriously a difficult language!)

I wish I could add smell and taste to these photos to give you an even better sense of the scrumptiousness to be had….

Seriously, MORE Festivals?!?! (yes, but this time there’s cheddar!)

Ciao Readers!

Okay, if you’re tired of hearing about all of the festivals here, this is not the post for you.  Then again, if you’re a festival junkie like me, read on…

It’s almost hard for me to believe how many festivals there are here in Florence.  I think I’ve just decided that festivals are a part of everyday life – like little food markets, the passeggiata and cappuccinos (and, “purtroppo,” the post office).  Seriously, I can’t remember a weekend in the past several months where there wasn’t at least one festival or festival-like happening.  And now that it’s the holiday season…well, you can do the math!

This past week marked the start of the German Christmas Market which runs for about 3 weeks in Piazza Santa Croce (recall this is where the European Food Festival was held).  It’s a little like that festival (complete with wurst), but with more permanent and holiday-adorned stalls, as well as more non-food gift items (pictures below).  There’s also the addition of a cold-weather treat we sampled – mulled wine (pictured in Steve’s hand) – we could not put our finger on what gave it its unique flavor (wine, spices, and….varnish?).

While all of that was fun enough, the festival came to an exciting crescendo when we came across the gentleman from England and his wondrous booth of… CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!!  (I actually yelled out-loud, in English, “OMG, he has CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!”)  Okay, now those of you reading this back in the States may be thinking “huh, what’s the big deal?”  I’ll tell you what the big deal is – it is the first time in 4 months we’ve had a taste of real cheddar cheese (and we used to eat this stuff by the pounds back in ABQ)!  (You may recall I have said you can get [very expensive] cheddar at Pegna, which is true, but the taste is not spot-on).  Not only does the English chap (pictured) have cheddar cheese, but he has a mind-boggling array of varieties (with jalapenos anyone?).  I think we were too overwhelmed by excitement (and taste-testing) to make coherent choices, but we did come home with two blocks (some of which will make its way into enchiladas tomorrow night; while we have no green chile, I did bring dried red).  We’ve agreed it’s worth the splurge, so before the festival ends we are going to go back and get one of the flavor assortment wheels pictured.  Woo Hoo!!!  (I actually had to e-mail another expat who I know stays on the lookout for cheddar as well – she responded with similar enthusiasm [“Yuuuuuum. How totally exciting!!”]).

I know it’s been a blog-post-filled week – thanks for reading and have a great weekend!!!

Foodie Heaven! (Mercato Centrale)

Ciao Readers! (and Happy Halloween!) (and Happy Birthday Henry!)

Wow – I just got back from a trip across town to Mercato Central (the central market) – wow!  I can’t believe we’ve been here almost 3 months and I just “discovered” this (well-known) gem!

So here’s the scoop – in my effort to not be a tourist in my adopted home, I have been going to Sant’ Ambrogio market (which I have blogged about).  It is the “real” market for locals – and don’t get me wrong, it’s great and where we get most of our fruits and vegetables.  The Mercato Centrale, from what I had read, is where the tourists go (it’s right by the big outdoor leather market in the center of town) – so up until today I avoided it like the plaque.  Big mistake!  While some of the food is obviously geared towards tourists (fancy bags of multi-colored pastas at equally fancy prices), the market is a foodie dream and has lots of “normal” amazing food on offer.  (And, compared to the usual “tourists,”  the venders thought my Italian was “benissimo.”)

I actually went in search of yet another weird ingredient to replicate comfort foods (dried cranberries [for granola], which I found in the dried fruit stall pictured), but ended up discovering an entire new food-shopping haven (as an aside – I often write several posts on days when inspiration hits me – I wrote this one before I read the articles about culture shock – no more wild goose chases for now!).  Not only are there all of the beautiful prepared foods pictured below, there are numerous fresh-looking meat and fish stalls.  I had kinda given up hope finding any foodie markets as cool as the ones in Bologna, until today!  YAY!

Bon appetit!

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