Category Archives: February 2010

Caffe’ Ahh…Roma

Ciao!  I’m glad you’ve stopped by the Cafe’ today.  We’re discussing Italy.  Have you been?  Hmm…how about a quick culture lesson?

A very nice man, Bruno Bozzetto,  produced a video on Italian culture.  It won’t take too much of your time to view…just a few minutes…let’s watch the video together, shall we?

Oh, by the way, be sure to take notes when you see the “Coffee” section of the movie.  It’s really important.

So, what do you think?  Isn’t it just the berries that you can have sooo many coffee choices?  That’s why I like Italy, and Rome in particular.  In fact, my name is “happy-happy” when I’m around the ahh…Roma of coffee.

My view of Italy, and particularly Rome is probably different than most.  I think it has something to do with the caffe’ (pron. kahf-Feh with an accent at the end:o).

Oh don’t get me wrong.  I love Italy.  I love Rome.  I truly do.  It’s just that once you’ve tried the caffe’ in Rome, something happens to you.

It certainly happened to me.  When “R” and I were in Italy last year, we walked and wandered the streets of Rome.

It was our second trip.  We had seen many of the sights before, and it was oh so nice to see them again…

Somehow though, Rome was different on that trip.  In fact, “R” agrees too.  Rome had taken on an ahh…Roma-like personality.  You know, sort of intense and aromatic.

Ahh…Roma is everywhere in Rome.  Doesn’t seem to matter where you are…it’s just there.  After all, there is a caffe’ bar on every street and street corner.

You can just walk-in (the doors are always wide open), order your caffe’ from the barista, and sip away while standing.  It’s like a quick “happy-happy“, and then you’re off to see more of ahh-Roma!

Oh wait.  Here are some more pictures.  You’ll see what I mean about the ahh…Roma-like personality.

Oh look, there’s a Latte Macchiato.  Isn’t it lovely? sigh

Oh yes, I remember this sight.  This is Caffe’ Ristretto.

Oh Joy!  Aren’t Italian baristas just the best!  Look at the perfect swirls of milk foam on the Cappuccino!

I think there’s just one more photo…yes, here it is…a favorite of mine, the Mocacchino.  You know, the one with chocolate!

Oh my, you’re right.  There is something  missing in all these photos….Hmm…what do you think it is?

Oh, I know!  It’s that wonderful little cookie that is served with the caffe’.

No problem!  We’ll just make some.  Let’s see…let’s celebrate “happy-happy .  So, how about baking some Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti?

To start, let’s assemble the ingredients.

Ingredients*

1 3/4 cups unbleached flour (will need some extra to dust your pastry board or work surface)

1 cup natural cane sugar

1/2 cup cacao powder (Valrhona is best for this recipe)

1 1/2 Tablespoons allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 Tablespoons fresh brewed espresso

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli Gourmet 72% Cacao chips are wonderful in this recipe)

8 ounces pistachios

parchment paper, wax paper or silpat liners (enough for 2 large baking sheets)

*organic ingredients are preferred

Now that the ingredients are assembled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Begin by adding all of your dry ingredients (flour, cane sugar, cacao powder, allspice, baking soda, and salt) into a large mixing bowl.  Stir to combine.

Next, add your liquid ingredients (eggs, vanilla, and espresso) into a small bowl and lightly beat together to combine.

Let’s now pour the combined liquid ingredients into your large mixing bowl containing the dry ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Next, fold in the pistachios.

Transfer your dough onto your floured work surface and begin to knead.  Note that the dough will be sticky and stiff.  Add additional flour to your work surface, as necessary while kneading, to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface.

Divide the dough into 2 balls.  Shape each ball into 2 loaves approximately 12-inches long.  Place 1 loaf onto your prepared baking sheet.

Bake the loaf until it appears cracked (about 35 minutes).  Set the loaf aside to cool.  Meanwhile, bake your 2nd loaf until it appears cracked.

After you remove your 2nd loaf from the oven, reduce your oven temperature to 300 degrees.

While you’re waiting for the 2nd loaf to cool, place your 1st loaf on a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated bread knife, cut your loaf into 1/2 inch diagonal slices.  You will have approximately 25 biscotti slices.

Place your biscotti slices onto your baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 7 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Once toasted, turn over the slices and bake again for 7 minutes or until toasted.

It is important at this stage, to do the following:  walk out of your kitchen for approximately 1 minute;  breathe in some fresh air; next, walk back into your kitchen; and, breathe in a Big breath of Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti air.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Aren’t you “happy-happy“?

Now repeat the twice-baked procedure with your 2nd loaf.  You may, at this point, repeat the Big breathe-in procedure too.

Allow your biscotti to cool thoroughly so that the chocolate chunks harden.  Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  Or, freeze the extra (if there are any).

Oh…think of the possibilities…perhaps if we crushed the biscotti, we could use biscotti crumbles for a cheesecake crust…yum…

There now.  What a relief…  The photos are complete.  There is “happy-happy” biscotti with the caffe’.  Sigh

Cooks Note:  This recipe was developed after testing (and tasting) many, many chocolate biscotti recipes.  Thanks to Martha Stewart for her “Martha Stewart Living Cookbook” Double-Chocolate Biscotti recipe and to Todd English and Sally Sampson for their “Figs Table” Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti recipe.  Their brilliance led me to adapt those recipes and ultimately develop the  “happy-happy” Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti.

Traveler’s Notes:  Don’t miss the beautiful sites in ahh-Roma:  the Coliseum; Campo di Fiori; the Trevi Fountain; the Arch of Constantine; the Vatican Museums (and the spiraling staircase); the Pantheon; and, of course, the Spanish Steps.

S3XT5E8RRVGU

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Filed under February 2010

Cabbage Pride

I enjoy gardening, don’t you?  I started gardening when I was in grade school.  In fact, when I was 12 years old, I grew a BIG cabbage.  The BIG cabbage was my pride and joy.

Of course, I grew this cabbage in Alaska–you know, the place where everything is BIG.  In fact, my cabbage weighed 40 lbs.

After growing this pride and joy, I hadn’t thought about it much.  Mostly, I’ve lived my life knowing that I am a successful cabbage gardener.  I haven’t won any awards or even shared this tidbit of information with many of my friends.

Perhaps I’ve just lived my life feeling really proud about my gardening ability, particularly when it comes to growing cabbage.  Well, I must admit that I’ve probably been a bit arrogant about the whole ordeal.

However, last September my pride was shattered.  I was crushed.  I felt about the same as when my mother exceeded my BIG fish catch record.  In 1984, my little petite mum (she’s 4′ 11″ tall) caught a 70 lb. King Salmon in Deep Creek, Alaska.  After that occasion, life was simply not the same.

My life was shattered...

My cabbage pride (vs. my fishing pride) was shattered at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska.  I remember the day well.

“R” and I had decided to take my mom out to lunch, then spend the afternoon walking and wandering the Fairgrounds.  It was a crisp and cool Fall day.  We entertained ourselves silly…

Alaskan Wildlife

Coffee Guys

I wish we hadn’t done it.  But, we did.  We walked and wandered into the farm animal and garden complex…

It was OK at first.  We viewed and talked about all the nice vegetables grown by local gardeners.  We even saw some large vegetables.

Rhubarb

"R"'s thumb and large zucchini

But there it was.  I remember gasping for air.  I had even wondered if I was dis-com-bob-u-lated (is that a word?  well, you know what I mean).  I closed my eyes and reopened them and saw cabbages everywhere…

Cabbage in a canoe...

"Count Veggula" cabbage...

But, there was no mistaking the BIG cabbage.  It was “The Beast” of all cabbages.  And it was, indeed, there in front of me.

"The Beast"

“The Beast” weighed 127 pounds.  Can you believe it my Cafe’ friends?  I was in awe, as you can imagine.

The Anchorage Daily News reported about “The Beast”…that “Leafy Wonder”.  But, I was unable to read all the details.  My cabbage pride had been wounded.

Time heals these wounds, however.  So, now several months later I’m upbeat again.  Why not?  You only live once!  Why not make cabbage and meatball soup to soothe one’s wounded cabbage pride and move on in life.  Shall we, my Susitna Cafe’ friends?

Cabbage and Meatball Soup (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2-3 small celery hearts with leaves, chopped (or, 1 celery stalk will do)

2 carrots, sliced

.25 lb Serrano ham, chopped

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 small head of cabbage, shredded and chopped

7-8 cups of water

2 heaping Tablespoons of Better than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base (or 3 cubes of Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon)

1 can cannellini beans, drained (or ½ cup dried beans soaked in 4 cups of water overnight)

Parmesan rind (or about 1/3 cup of grated parmesan)

10 meatballs (your favorite recipe or frozen will do—I often use Ikea frozen meatballs (thawed) because they are good quality, and have no preservatives)

Make Your Soup Base

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or soup pot under medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté.  When the garlic begins to turn brown,  add the chopped onions.  Sauté and stir til transparent.  Now add your chopped celery with leaves, sliced carrots and chopped Serrano ham.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Next, add the chopped plum tomatoes and cabbage.  Stir and sauté for another 10 minutes, and enjoy the beautiful color of this cabbage soup base.

Oooh...so nice!

Let’s Make Soup

Your soup base is prepared, so now let’s add 7 cups of water, the bouillon, cannellini beans, and the parmesan rind.  Simmer the soup for approximately 30 minutes.  If you used dried soaked beans, you may need to simmer the soup longer in order to soften the beans.  Taste, and use your own discretion.

Add your meatballs and lots of fresh ground pepper.  You may add an additional cup of water if the soup becomes too thick (note, this is a substantial soup so it will be thick).  Cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add salt, as needed.

Garnish with shredded parmesan.  Serve with crusty sourdough bread, a hunk of your favorite cheese, and a tossed salad.

Dinner is ready!

Ode to the Cabbage

Oh, great cabbage…

Where art thou?

Not one of 5, 10, or 20 pounds…

No imposter will do!

Oh, what temerity!

Roll along now ye little ones…

We seek cabbage from the Land of the Midnight Sun!

by “R”

Traveler’s Notes:  the Alaska State Fair will be held this year from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2010.  Be sure to visit the BIG vegetables!

Cook’s Notes:  this recipe makes alot of soup–freeze some!  It freezes well.

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Filed under February 2010

Hungary Anyone?

We’ve just returned from the Land of Paprika.  I don’t have a diary.  But, if I did, I would describe Day 1 as follows:

Just arrived in Budapest, Hungary feeling groggy.  The airport is much smaller than expected.  It’s mid-afternoon, Hungary-time…I’ve eaten breakfast twice…or, was it lunch that I ate twice and breakfast and dinner only once?  Even my watch, with multiple time functions, is confused.

Our Zona Cab driver, a friendly native Hungarian, promptly whisks us from the airport to Erzsebet Korut.  He is happy for us.  He wants us to love Budapest.  He’s proud of the people and  cultural heritage.  He speaks excellent English.

Thank goodness.  I’ve forgotten how to speak anything in Hungarian.  I am jet-lagged.

“We’re here” he says.  We step-out of the cab and look up.  Wow!  “R” and I have our mouths open wide.  The Hotel doorman, observing us, is surely wondering if we’re trying to speak Hungarian, and after having failed, have decided to fall back on the Charades technique to act-out our needs…

No, we are not Hungary hungry.  We are in awe.  The online hotel reviews simply did not depict the beauty of  the Corinthia Hotel.  The Hotel was described as having been “a former restored palace”…a bit “out of the way”…

As the winter sun began to set, the lights appeared all around us.  We gasped at the  Corinthia “Grand” Hotel, a beautifully restored palace, glowing on this winter day in all its splendor.

Home away from home...

We wave goodbye to our new Hungarian taxicab driver friend, and we step into the Hotel…

“R” is enthusiastic.  He wants to take my picture, although we haven’t checked-in yet.  “Limburger!”, he says while he takes a multitude of photos of me.  “R” shows them to me, and they appear a bit jet-lagged blurry.

"Limberger!"

We agree to check-in quickly, toss our baggage into our room and focus on exploring.  “R” and I love to walk when we travel.  We walk and we wander…

Our jet-lag begins to wear-off as we walk out onto Erzsebet Korut.  It is cold outside.  We take it all in…the Austro-Hungarian architecture, the stoic remains from the communist occupation, and the city dwellers walking home from work.

I take note of a cluster of locals carrying bags of groceries home.  I quietly think, oh joy!  I know there’s a grocery store nearby…Yes, my Susitna Cafe’ friends, a grocery store.  Can you believe it?

Who in the world travels all the way across the Atlantic from Houston, Texas to Budapest, Hungary to spend time in a grocery store?  We do.  Why?  Well, you would be amazed at what one can learn from the experience!

After spending about 20 minutes in the local Spar grocery store, one can assess the following:

1) the locals eat fresh foods and shop daily as typical Europeans do–this is determined by strolling around the entire store first in order to get an overall broad assessment of the situation–are we having fun yet?

2) pastries, and most particularly, cakes are popular–take note that the cracker, cookie and pastry isle is fully stocked with prepared cakes…carrot cake, chocolate cake… cake with and without marzipan…

3) there is paprika everywhere–we’re not talking about paprika in small jars.  We’re talking about paprika in bags and tubes.  If paprika is not packaged in a bag or tube, it is commonly found as an ingredient in food items.

At this point of my grocery store cultural assessment, my thoughts race as I consider all the recipes I could test and/or develop from this wonderful inspiration.

In the meantime, “R” is beginning to look tired and Hungary hungry.  I encourage him to be patient because I think I’ve found ITIT is that one source of cooking inspiration that I simply must learn about during our trip.  In this case, on our first day, IT must be paprika.  Paprika is Hungarian.  Hungary hungarians eat paprika.  We are in Hungary, so we must eat paprika.  We must learn about paprika too.

My thoughts continue to race…well, there are so many kinds of paprika to consider… special quality, delicate, excuisite delicate, pungent excuisite delicate, noble sweet, half sweet, rose AND hot paprika.  What is a girl to do?

I convinced myself to hold that thought until I could figure it out later.  After all, what is a girl to do?  So, we walk out of Spar and head towards Andrassy Ut.

Meanwhile, “R” is still Hungary hungry.  We observe many bookstores on Andrassy Ut.  We love bookstores!  We enter “Alexandra” bookstore, and I find the cookbook section quickly.  They have “Culinaria Hungary” in English!  I quickly glance at recipes and note some common ingredients…Hungarian peppers, tomatoes, paprika…

“R” waves at me wildly and encourages me to go up the escalator with him.  “R” has found food and art…

What a sight as we ride the escalator to the second floor–the ceiling is gilded.  Isn’t it marvelous?

Alexandra Guilded Ceiling

Look Up!

We are delighted as we sit at the “Alexandra Bookstore Cafe” table amongst friends.  But, there is a slight hiccup…our waitress speaks Hungarian.  We try speaking Hungarian…our waitress doesn’t understand us, and she smiles at our efforts…

Our smiling waitress then begins speaking German.  At this point, there is hope…I speak some German, and after doing so, she understands me!  We are now “connected”.  We enthusiastically order a hot tea, a latte and some sandwiches.

We dive into our sandwiches amongst the frescoes and books.  Occasionally I look up and see this:

Alexandra Bookstore Cafe Fresco

Art and Food...

I am, once again, inspired.  I become more energized by the minute.  As I bite into my sandwich, I ask the waitress, “Was ist das?” She tells me that we are eating Hungarian sausage laced with…what else?  Paprika!  Art and food…

Susitna Cafe’ Hungarian Winter Lecso (“LETCH-oh”)

Lecso is a popular Hungarian national dish.  Every Hungarian family has their own version.  The Susitna Cafe’ version includes an assortment of colorful organic vegetables combined with sausage and, of course, paprika.  It is a wonderful winter stew inspired by Day 1 in Hungary, our art and food experience.  Would you like to share the experience with me at the Susitna Cafe’?

This is what you’ll need to make Lecso that feeds 4-6 people as a main dish (feeds more if served as an appetizer):

Ingredients

Ingredients

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon bacon grease*

1 medium eggplant, sliced in 1″ slices, salted, rinsed, then chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 yellow bell peppers, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

2-3 small zucchini squash, diced

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

3 heaping teaspoons tomato paste

2 Tablespoons Hungarian paprika (hot is preferred, but sweet will do)

1 Hungarian sausage link*, chopped (kielbasa or your favorite sausage will do)

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream (for serving)

*vegetarians omit these ingredients

Begin by slicing the eggplant into 1 inch slices.  Salt the tops and bottoms and leave for 10 minutes.  The salt will extract any bitterness from the eggplant.

Salted Eggplant

Salted Eggplant

Heat the oil in a dutch oven at medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, clean and chop the red onion.  Next, rinse the salt from the eggplant slices, pat them dry, and chop them.  Throw the onion and eggplant into the heated dutch oven.  Saute and stir.

While the onion and eggplant cook, clean and chop the remaining vegetables.  After the eggplant and onion are cooked soft, add the remaining chopped vegetables.  Saute and stir.

Sauteed Mixed Lecso Vegetables

Colorful Lecso Veggies

The vegetables may begin to stick to the pan, so you may add about 1/4 cup of water, as needed.  Now add the tomato paste and paprika.  Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  The Lecso should have the consistency of a chunky tomato sauce.

Add the chopped sausage to the mix and continue cooking for 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Less salt is required if sausage is used in the recipe.

Now, turn-off the heat and allow the Lecso to come to room temperature.  Although you may skip this step and dig-in, a little patience will reveal a richer and full-flavored Lecso.  The cooling period allows the Lecso flavors to meld.  Once the Lecso is cool, then reheat and serve.

Serve with a dollop of light sour cream on top, some crusty bread,  and a tossed green salad.

Hungary Anyone?

Traveler’s Notes:  Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that the Alexandra Bookstore Cafe’ frescoes were painted by a 19th century Hungarian painter, Karoly Lotz.

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Filed under February 2010