Monday, February 21, 2011

What I Learned In Italy About Food...

Honestly, every region of Italy has its own style of cooking, but I'll stick with what I experienced. Rome (Roma). Florence (Firenze). Two cities where you can get some of the best cuisine in the world, often for a song and dance. However, that wasn't the case with us. We spent our Euros with fervor and I'd do it all again with no regrets.

The main thing I learned was to eat, drink, and do plenty of walking. It's the main reason Italian women look so fabulous. They eat normally (in other words, they eat anything they like) and walk everywhere, thus the reason there are no obese people (aside from tourists) in Italy. It's a concept that Americans might want to try, considering our fat statistics. All women in Rome eat Gelato and remain slender because they walk. And let me just say that I was in better shape than I've ever been on this trip. Sadly, I lost 3 additional pounds in Italy but I've gained 5 pounds since I returned. Uh-Huh. Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. Walk a lot. Eat a lot. Play a lot. Life as a thin person is really just that easy.

Anyhoo, we rented a flat in Rome, which meant we did a lot of walking, then taxi rides when our feet were too swollen to move any further. Still, the food was just one of many of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, I was often too consumed with said food or wine to take pictures, much less remember the names of the places. Luckily, our downstairs neighbor Gino invited us to dinner at his flat 3 times and took us out sightseeing one night. 

It was a magical trip, really. Gino (who is somewhere between 75 and 80 years old and Sicilian) is a marvelous chef and made us some of the best meals we had in Rome. He also made his own Limoncello, which I couldn't seem to get enough of. Gino was once a very famous journalist working out of Rome, but limits himself to family and politics now. We did not even attempt to discuss politics. I don't even like discussing politics with people I know, much less with someone I have a language barrier with. Instead, we spoke about our children and our spouses, as we struggled to communicate with our broken versions of one another's languages.

Oddly enough, one our best meals was at the Villa Borghese, where they have a lovely little bistro. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take cameras in, so I can't show what we had, but it was the most delightful thin pizza ever. Thankfully, we were able to take pictures of the Villa Borghese Gallery grounds. There were herbs and fruits growing everywhere. I mean, check out the size of those limettas (limes).

Another very memorable meal was in Florence at a bistro called Acqua Al 2 (Due). Florence actually has some of the finest beef in the world and we had *life changing steaks* that night that were served with a balsamic reduction sauce that was truly to live for.

From our rooftop terrace, we could see all of South Rome and we had fresh herbs for cooking, which was such a treat! We had an adorable little kitchen and were only 2 blocks from the Supermercato, where they had everything we could ever possibly need. Also, I hit the corner cafe every morning for my much needed espresso. It was really interesting staying away from the tourist traps. We were able to much better experience the real life Romans live.

After some minor adjustments to our surroundings, my friend and I began to settle in within a couple of days. We found that our terrace was the most delightful place of all to be, listening to the radio as they cranked out the tunes each night. After long days of sightseeing, we were most content to retire to our little rooftop veranda. Then, we'd retire to the 2 sofas with our feet above our heads. Yes, the stumps were truly that swollen. Neither of us ever slept in the bedroom because we needed elevation. Go. Figure.

We both fell in love with the Bufala (Water Buffalo) Mozzarella, with its rich, creamy texture and mild flavor. It made for dynamite Bruschetta. I fell totally head-over-heels for the Gelato. Ice cream always just kills my teeth, but not Gelato. I could eat gallons of it and it's around every corner everywhere in Italy! Then, there's my whole obsession with homemade Limoncello. If I drank it all the time I'd weigh at 250 pounds and/or my teeth would all fall out. Never in my life have I eaten so much or so well. So, basically, you could say I learned that good food cannot and should not be rushed. La dolce vita! I can hardly wait to return....

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Best Decadent Dessert... Chocolate Truffle Tarts With Raspberry Sauce And Fresh Berries

Since I've always been on a diet as far back as I can remember, I've never been a big fan of making or eating desserts. I'm sure my children would tell you the only desserts we ever had here were fruit or Flan. Sometimes Jell-O or the occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies. Those days are history. Now that I'm 57 I've decided that I'm going to enjoy everything I possibly can, including desserts. I'm just going to have to go without other things sometimes and exercise more. Maybe. Or not.

So, as Valentine's Day draws near I look at dessert recipes for weeks before finally deciding what to make for Mr. Snooty on Valentine's Day. This year was my turn to do dinner and I really wanted to make him drool this year. Mission accomplished. Let me just say that I hit the proverbial jackpot with this recipe. Every bite was like a sexual personal orgasm. Neither of us could do more than make Mmmmm sounds the entire time we were finishing our dessert.

This was originally a Tyler Florence recipe only he didn't serve it with fresh whipped cream and/or a raspberry sauce. However, dues must be paid for this fabulous dessert. Otherwise, I'd never have come up with all this on my own. Tyler Florence totally rocked my world with this delicacy! 

Luckily, the recipe makes enough for 6, so we were able to do it all over again last night and tonight. Sometimes I truly amaze myself. I couldn't wait to share this with you, so I'm posting it on my cooking blog as well as here on my regular blog. If I can make this masterpiece, then anyone can, trust me. I changed the recipe up a little and the result was sheer perfection. This is seriously the best dessert I've ever made.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Tarts Adapted From Tyler Florence:

Ingredients For Shells:

1 -1/2 cups of finely crushed chocolate wafer crumbs (just use Oreos without the center if you can't find wafers)
6 tablespoons of butter, melted

Ingredients For Chocolate Truffle Mix:

3/4 cup heavy cream

8 ounces of good-quality (70%) semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (I used rum extract and it was even better than vanilla)

1/4 cup cocoa powder, for dusting

Ingredients For Topping:

1 cup whipping cream

2 -3 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1 small container of fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried


1. Use fork to combine melted butter and crushed chocolate wafers.

2. Spray the inside of six (6) cups of a muffin pan with vegetable cooking spray
3. Line each of the six cups with a large square of either parchment paper or wax paper. (I tried both and they both worked perfectly. Press the liners with a small (like a juice) glass to press them into place. Make sure there is enough overhang on each one to lift out when they are ready.

4. Fill each of the 6 muffin cups with the crushed wafer and butter mixture and use small juice glass to press into shape. The mixture should go up the sides about 1-1/2", but not all of mine did and they were just fine.

5. Place muffin tin in refrigerator until the chocolate truffle recipe is prepared.

6. Heat cream over medium low heat until it comes to a simmer. Place finely chopped chocolate in a small bowl and pour heated cream over chocolate. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.

7. When time is up, whip the cream and chocolate with a whisk until blended. Let stand at room temperature for one hour. When hour is up beat the mixture as fast as you can or use medium setting on a hand mixer until mixture thickens and lightens in color. I suggest a hand mixer.

8. Remove muffin tin from refrigerator. Place one raspberry in the bottom center of each cup.

9. Fill a pastry bag with chocolate truffle mixture (or you can use a plastic baggie with the corner snipped off) and fill each of the 6 cups with the mixture. Be sure to lick or suck out the rest of the mixture. You won't want to waste it, trust me.

10. Place muffin tin back into fridge for at least one hour.

11. Meanwhile, you can make the raspberry sauce (recipe follows) and then the whipped cream.

Raspberry Sauce:


1 - 12 ounce package of frozen raspberries, thawed

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water


1. Place thawed raspberries in a strainer (or sieve) over bowl and press lightly to extract juice. (If you press too hard the seeds will come through and you'll have to strain it again with cheesecloth in a strainer).

2. Transfer juice to a small saucepan; add sugar and cook over medium high heat until hot, about 3 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, mix water and cornstarch until combined.

4. When raspberry mixture is hot, slowly whisk in cornstarch. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to use.

Final Assembly:

1. Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of raspberry sauce over one half side of the dessert plate.

2. Carefully remove the chocolate truffle filled cups by the paper overhang, removing paper and place on top of raspberry sauce.

3. Drop 2 to 3 large dollops of whipped cream on top and one side, adding a few fresh raspberries.

4. Using a small strainer, dust lightly with the cocoa powder, which I completely forgot to do before taking the pictures.