Whalechaser's Musings

No Matter Where You Go...
There You Are
Make the Best of It

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thanksgiving Dinner 2013

I decided to make a butternut squash galette, to serve with the leg of lamb that I was making for thanksgiving dinner. As you can see, I had a little help from Woody...he just loves to get into whatever it is that I am cooking. Truth be told...he loves veggies
After I baked the squash I compiled the galette...
that required a good pastry dough (read that as Pillsbury dough boy store bought)
a mix of ricotta cheese and roasted garlic as a first layer, then the squash mixed with roasted shallots and spices...
After folding it up, top it off with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and sprinkle the edges with some chopped fresh rosemary...an then into the oven.
Now, on to the leg of lamb. This baby marinated overnight in olive oil, garlic, thyme and salt and pepper. I did not use lemon, because I did not want any chemical cooking going on.
As you can see, the dinner was spectacular! The string beans were only boiled, and so were nothing to write home about, but everything else was really good!
Thankful for good friends, good food and good health.  What more could anyone ask?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Romdraculas -- Firenze

An odd title for a blog post I know, but it marks another of the miraculous and fabulous days that I spent in Florence, Italy this year.

 The background story...it was the last day of my Sierra Club trip. We had already hiked over seven miles in a small village, ridden many miles back to Florence and now we were all set loose to go and see whatever we wanted with our last few hours of the program. I latched on to two other single women and toured the Duomo Museum and then munched a sandwich while we decided what to see next. Our decision was confounded some because it was the last day of the 'Big Bicycle Race' and it was ending right here in Florence. Just as an aside, I think it was pretty amazing that several days before when we were in Lucca, Italy, it was the beginning of the Big Bicycle Race. It was like we interlaced our trip around it and it followed us like a bad dream, creating traffic issues and detours all around. 

But we agreed that we would go see Santa Croce. It was another cathedral, and Lord knows I had already seen plenty of them on this trip, but she was insistent that this one was special and so I tagged along. She was right it was special..it contains the crypts of too many to list dignitaries and famous departed folks. But that for me wasn't the best part. Here is the best part.

As we walked across the Piazza to the cathedral I heard this fabulous music. It just overtook me. It was being performed by a group named Romdraculas and was just so delightful that I bought the only 2 cds they had for sale. I would have gotten more if they had them. They were that good. So her is my gift to you. They have some of it right here on you tube for you to enjoy. So go on, listen, close your eyes and pretend you too, are in the Piazza. Ah just sublime! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hiking to -- in Italy

I guess this is what happens when you wait too long to blog about your trip. You forget where you were hiking to, and what village you where in when you saw that beautiful whatever. So all I can say for sure is, this is still the Sierra club hiking trip in Tuscany. We had lots of great food, as you can see. The shops were really special and the grapes were ready for the pickin'. I had a wonderful time, even if I can't remember exactly where I was when I was having it.
I remember stopping for this shot...I just don't know where we were headed. The vineyards were brimming with luscious grapes
This shot was taken on the grounds of a cultural center that we toured and also had a lovely lunch of asparagus penne and apricot tart, see further down.

We were headed to an Etruscan burial cave on this particular hike.  Not many folks used this trail, we almost had to bushwhack.

These were a few dishes from our Agriturismo, they were all fabulous!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cooking Tour -- Florence, Italy

The cooking tour I signed up for on the Viator.com site was easily one of the best days of all 18 that I spent in the Tuscany area. What made it even nicer, is that I made all my reservations from the comfort of my home before I left. There was never a doubt about the tour being over-booked or cancelled. I actually reserved four tours this way and was very happy with each one. I did run the risk of having a rainy day, but that didn't happen -- so no worries! Because I got all four tours from the same agency, I got a nice discount on the last tour, which just happened to be the highest priced one, and so that made it all the sweeter.
OK, enough business talk and more tour talk!

We met outside the Santa Maria Train station and walked together to the Central Market.

If you have never visited a market in a European City then you are most definitely in for a treat. This is food selling at it's finest. The surroundings are not plush by any stretch of the imagination, at times you may actually wonder about cleanliness. Don't. Everything is just as it should be.
At these markets you get fresh, you get unusual and you get flavor-packed...then you have to do something with it!

This is a fresh ravioli shop.  Name it and they probably make it for you. You have to make the sauce and cook the ravioli...that was made...moments ago!

 If the stand that you are visiting does not sell absolutely fresh produce, bread, ravioli, meat or cookies, then chances are it sells the very best prepared food items.  This is Conti and here you can buy the absolute best balsamics, olive oils, ragus and crema's and other assorted condiments and accoutrements. I got so much stuff that when it came time to leave I had to tell them to ship it all to my home address, there was no room in my suitcases for all those goodies!

 I have heard from Europeans that the chickens there are 'yellower' than what  we have here in the states.  It looks like it may be true, but see, on the left are chickens like ours. On the right yellower chickens.  They also still have their feet -- which are definitely yellow!

 Meat markets. Lots and lots of meat markets.  All very expensive.  All very nice.

 Mushrooms of every conceivable variety. These flavor packed little morsels are so worth the cost, they can flavor and boost many dishes without being the star of the show.

 So we bought what we needed to prepare the meal and headed to the cooking school.  Which was very nicely appointed, very clean and efficiently laid out for five cooking teams.

I didn't see our chef actually buy these eggs, but look, they are dated. If it isn't fresh, it doesn't get used here.

 Here the folks I was working with were busily preparing the vegetables and the meat that would soon be our lunch...

 The chef explains how to 'throw' the meat so it has the right consistency and holds its shape.

 Here is the finished product -- baby meatloaf

 What is a meal in Italy without pasta? Not a meal!  We made the dough and took turns at running it through the hand turned pasta maker, in this case linguine.

 A couple in my group very proud of their creation: bruschetta!

 When we were all done playing with our food, we went downstairs to a nicely appointed dining area complete with wine racks, brick walls and vaulted ceilings to partake in the food that we made along with endless bottles of wine-- for those who partook. (that would be EVERYBODY!)

 First was the bruschetta and the pasta with vegetable sauce.

 Then the baby meatloafs

 Finally, the sorbet.  Yes we made fresh lemon sorbet!  It was so worth it!

When I got home I was asked to review the tour. I told them that it was one of the top five days of my entire thirty day vacation. Actually, it is almost worth going to Florence just to do this. Really. It is. true. Go. Have some fun!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fettuccine al Limone -- (fettuccine with lemon)

We interrupt this series of vacation photos because, I promised to submit the photos of a dish that I had while romping through Tuscany. So, my first confession is: it wasn't really my dish; it was actually Arlenes dish in Bargo...but I digress.
I heard that Marcella Hazan passed away while I was on my trip and I had to get a cookbook of hers since it seems she was a quite famous chef.  I don't know how she managed to NOT show up on my radar, but that is indeed the case. I am now finding out about her and her fabulous cooking postmortem and that really stinks. I found in one of her cookbooks a recipe that is very close to a dish we were served in Bargo, Italy. I only had a taste of it, but that was enough for me to try this recipe and pass on the ravioli dish that I originally bargained for. 
So without further ado:

Fettuccini with Lemon
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of heavy cream
the grated peel, but none of the white pith of 4 lemons
Fettuccine (I confess I used Buttoni linguini --I was just too lazy to make my own)
1/2 cup of freshly grated parigiano-reggiano

 Grate the lemon zest and get all the other ingredients ready. Put the water on to boil for the pasta. The sauce takes only a few moments!
Put the butter and the cream into a saute pan large enough to hold the sauce and the pasta when cooked.  Bring to a boil. Then stir in the lemon juice.
 Then add the zested lemon and stir till smooth and the mixture reduces just a little.

 Keep an eye on the pasta, should take only a few minutes, at most.  I did not drain the pasta, I just used tongs and grabbed it and transferred the dripping pasta to the sauce...
You may notice in the background that I added 4 spears of cooked asparagus (this was an idea from another meal I had in Italy)
 Toss the pasta in the sauce and add the 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Toss thoroughly. And then...
It was pretty darn good!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Two Abbeys: Monte Oliveto Magiore and L'Abbazia de San Galgano

The second day of our hiking program brought us to two very different abbeys. The first, Monte Oliveto Maggiore was clearly isolated, well-maintained and had a portico that depicts the life of Saint Benedict in 36 frescoes; each indicating a notable time in the saints' life. They were all in very good condition and it was easy to understand the story as portrayed in art.
 We never just drove up to a spot and walked in to see it. Always, we hiked and here is a shot as we approached the first abbey; we still had a good half hour before we actually got close to it. You can see it in the background.
 This is a shot of one of the 36 frescoes. Here Benedict delivers a possessed monk by scourging him.

Lunch consisted of more riboletta, a vegetable platter, spinach souffle (somehow I missed those shots!) and Tira Missu

The Second abbey, L'Abbazia de San Galgano had only walls remaining. When one enters the body of the abbey and looks up -- only sky is visible. Perhaps that, more than anything expresses God visually. It was quite moving to experience this building too. The thing that brings most folks here though is the sword, sunk deep into a stone by San Galfano (similar to the King Arthur story) It is located in another building up on the nearby hill, and very much worth the walk up to view it.
Sadly, though I remember distinctly taking many pictures, none of them made it to my hard drive so that is a mystery that I am still trying to solve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Voltera, Tuscany, Italy -- The Start of My Sierra Club Hiking Program

Life can REALLY be hard when you're on the road. But not here! Our first few nights were spent at Poderi Arcangelo Agriturismo Farmhouse located in the quaint village of San Gimignano; a few miles from the walled city, out in the rolling hills of the countryside. I suppose pictures would be a better way to show it...

After checking in to my room, I wandered around the property and drank in the gorgeous scenery. I did not have to work too hard to get a good photo. Almost anywhere I looked was a great view!
I moseyed down to the pool area and found that Barbara had already laid claim to the hanging chair next to the endless pool. I could have begged for it, but there was too much going on to even think about where to sit.
The sun started slipping away practically the moment I got there. See how the pool seems endless? that far side just seems to fall off the earth. It was truly fabulous.
All the hikers met at the pool for introductions and a little get to know you better meeting. Our leader, Mary brought a few bottles of wine and as you can see, we knew exactly what to do with them! The producer just happened to be the agriturismo that we were staying at. The wine was very good.
Before long we gathered in the restaurant area to discuss the next days plans and to partake in the first of many delicious dinners served family style. First the Ribolleta soup--a thick tomato, bean and bread concoction that was the best I had ever tasted.
Then the pasta. It looks like simple spaghetti with tomato sauce...it was so much better than that. The pasta is different in Italy. I think it is the flour.There were meat and vegetable dishes also, but I apparently was not thinking about photos at that time!

The next day we started the drive to our hiking place at 8AM. We drove a bit and then we got off the bus and hiked the countryside for four hours. Vineyards, farmhouses, back roads and fig trees to fill our visions as we hiked near to the village of Voltera.
We met the bus and rode to the entry of the city and had the afternoon to ourselves to wander the streets, museums, churches or whatever else caught our fancy.