La Dolce Vita in Modena

Chefs are extremists. 

When an ingredient, technique, or another chef’s work speaks to us, we become obsessive. I visited Modena with another chef, and we were on a pilgrimage. Modena is the home of Chef Massimo Bottura. We planned a trip from California to Italy based on the availability of dinner reservations. Our obsession: Bottura’s three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana. More specifically, one dish: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano (above). Of course, there was much more. But it all started there. 

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Opera|02: Not That Kind of Opera

No divas, only deliciousness. You’ll find Opera|02 di Ca’ Montanari a short drive outside the city of Modena. This is the Emilia-Romagna region. What some consider to be the gastronomic heart of Italy. Home to Parmigiano Reggiano, real balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and Chef Massimo Bottura (more about him soon!). It’s also the home of Pavarotti, Maserati, and Ferrari – you get the idea. The best of the best.  

Over the next several posts I will continue to share the best parts of a three-week grand tour taken in February 2020. Just before Italy and the world took an extended time out. As it turns out, that was, indeed, a once in a lifetime journey. This is the second of a multi-part series. If you missed it, Orvieto was part one

I hope you’ll be inspired to wander along with me. And don’t forget to share your own stories of personal grand tours in the comments below!

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Orvieto: Street Art, Food, and Wine

Io resto a casa – the Italian battle cry of Spring 2020. But, before Italy (and the world) took an extended time out in March 2020, I was able to spend a few weeks there. A friend and I drove from Rome to Tuscany and Umbria, on to Emilia-Romagna, and into the Veneto (and Venice, sans car) before returning to Rome.

As it turns out, that was, indeed, a once in a lifetime journey. I’ll share some of my favorite stories in a series here on Wander Eat and Tell. Orvieto is part one.

I hope you’ll be inspired to wander along with me. And don’t forget to share your own stories of personal grand tours in the comments!

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Honoring The Past

In April of 2009 food blogs were still the new big thing and many (including this one) more resembled basic diaries with photos than the stylized food-zines many have become.

Wander, Eat, and Tell began when I was a teaching assistant to the man who was often credited with being the father of food blogging, the late Steven Shaw. Steven co-founded the eGullet Society, a chat room for all things food and drink – the more obscure the better. My life is richer and more delicious for having called him my friend and colleague.

Steven encouraged us all to write and post every day, no matter what. A sentence with a photo was plenty. It was more important to post something real and true than to suffer over drafts and edits and footnotes. This was mind-blowing for someone who had just finished a Master’s degree in Gastronomy. It was liberating, and inspiring, and scary, and very difficult.

All posts previous to this are the unedited originals from 2009-2012, though many were removed. These posts do not represent my best writing. The photos are usually poor (and sometimes sideways or upside-down). But, they’ll give you a glimpse into a delicious history, if you care to take a look.

Now, as I return to the business of blogging with Wander, Eat, and Tell, I’ll build on that past – in honor of Steven, and in honor of my own history and evolution. Eleven years, more than 18 countries, and millions of sips and bites later, I am excited to continue to Wander, Eat, and Tell.

I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

In loving memory of Steven Shaw, “Beloved Teacher”

Heaven by the Sea

As long as there is Kaua’i, Don Ho’s words will ring true. After nearly ten years, I finally returned to Hawaii’s garden island and spent over a week basking in the sun (and moon) over Hanalei. This was a very low key trip. Traveling with two friends and a five month old guaranteed good company and quiet evenings sipping tropical cocktails in our condo enjoying cool breezes and the moon lingering over the ocean, then early mornings scooping fragrant lilikoi (passion fruit) from its shell while enjoying the glow of sunrise reflecting on the jagged mountains across the bay.

I’m very sad for all the suffering caused in NYC (aka Home) by Hurricane Sandy, but I am also deeply grateful for the delicious, tranquil moments spent in Heaven by the Sea.

View for our terrace

Cranberry-Almond Tart

For those of you who, like me, put some things off until the very last minute… or for those looking for a great use for leftover cranberry sauce, here’s a recipe for my favorite fall dessert.

Photo of cranberries by Jill Matsuyama on Flickr -

Cranberry-Almond Tart

 Serves 6-8

 1 – 9 inch Pie Crust:

 1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, cold, cut in cubes

1 egg mixed with 1/2 tablespoon water

Iced water, if needed

 Egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

 Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until sandy in texture (do not run at full speed). Add the egg and water mixture; pulse until moist clumps form. If the mixture is still dry, add very small amounts of iced water, pulsing between additions, until most of the flour is absorbed.

 Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form a disk; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Can be made in advance.

 Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a diameter approximately 2 inches larger than your tart (or pie) pan; approximately 1/4 inch thick. Press into pan, careful not to tear; trim excess dough. Flute edges if desired. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

 Preheat oven to 350. Prick bottom of tart shell, line with parchment paper, fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove weights and parchment, egg wash the bottom of the shell and return to oven for 10 more minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. (Reserve remaining egg wash)

 Topping:

 1 bag of fresh cranberries, picked over and cleaned

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup red jam or jelly (any berry)

1 cinnamon stick

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of liquid (orange juice, port wine, or water)

4 sheets of Gelatin, softened in cold water (or 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin bloomed in ¼ cup cold water)

 Combine all ingredients except the gelatin in a heavy-bottom sauce pan; cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, stir in softened/bloomed gelatin until dissolved, then cool. Should be a jam-like consistency when finished.

 Filling:

 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup finely ground almonds

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

  Heat oven to 350. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, flour and salt with a sturdy whisk.

 Pour into tart shell (may be more than you’ll need). Bake in center of oven for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown and set (like firm Jell-O when tapped). Remove from oven, egg wash the top and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from oven, cool for 15 minutes.

 Less than 1 hour before serving, spread cranberry topping evenly over the top – not too thick, you may have more than you need.

 Can be served warm or cool. Store covered in the refrigerator.

 

Tea and Cheese Tasting, Part II

Six exceptional teas, six exceptional cheeses, three passionate experts on the two subjects – the recipe for a fascinating evening. Thank you to In Pursuit of Tea, Saxelby Cheesemongers, and Chef Melanie Franks for sharing your knowledge and skill, and for introducing me to some new favorite flavor pairings.

Cheese plate

When pairing any foods and beverages, there are basic principles that apply. Acidity balances acidity, salt and acidity balance each other, salt enhances subtle back notes, salty and sweet love each other, tannins (in tea as in wine) whisk away animal fat (including dairy) leaving a clean palate and enhancing subtle  back notes as well.

I am now more convinced than ever that tea is more versatile than wine when enjoying cheese. Tea has the complex aromas and flavors of wine, only more subtle. Many teas also have the tannins and fermented characteristics of wine as well. What tea doesn’t have is the high acid of wine or, of course, the alcohol (which is significant, especially when considering new world wines).

Here are a few favorites from the evening’s pairings:

1. Japanese Sencha with Ardith Mae Chevre: the tea had a seaweed forest aroma and seemed to have a touch of salinity. The cheese was tart/tangy and bright. Together the cheese developed more sweet-cream flavors and the tea’s greenness provided a pleasant accent.

2. Dong Ding (oolong) “Twelve Trees” with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm: The aroma of the tea reminded me of a lilac bush in full bloom – floral and woody, a hint of smokiness from charcoal roasting of the leaves. The forward tannins also probably helped it along. This tea was, hands-down, my favorite and it paired with several cheeses beautifully. First, the cheddar – nutty, salty, yummy crystals of flavor (pure umami). Together, the lilac aromas popped and my mouth watered from the fruitiness of the cheese. The touch of smokiness accentuated a bacon-like aroma (the cheese is rubbed with lard as it ages). Other cheeses that went well with this tea: Goat Tomme (an earthy-foresty natural rind raw milk cheese from Twig Farm in VT) and Humble Pie (washed rind oozy-soft cheese from Woodcock Farm in VT).

3. Pu’erh (5 year aged black leaves-not pressed) with Vaquero Blue: Pu’erhs are a tough sell, even with some tea enthusiasts. Their very distinct barnyard aromas can be off-putting. I prefer to think of them as the old world Pinot Noirs of the tea world. This one was horse-y with the smell of rich hay and campfire smoke. The cheese had an equally barnyard-y aroma, firmer texture than I expected, and a savory saltiness. Together they were heavenly – hay, roasted nuts, and a pleasant gaminess. Wine could have never had the same effect with a cheese this full-bodied. The Pu’erh was also lovely with the Goat Tomme.

I’ll definitely be playing with this new knowledge through out the holidays!

Chef’s Night Off: Tea and Cheese Tasting

I’m headed to a new tea shop, In Pursuit of Tea (33 Crosby Street between Grand and Broome in SoHo, NYC), this evening to indulge in a bit of delicious education.

Tea eggs
From a different tea tasting

My friend Melanie, a tea specialist and chef, is working with Sebastian Beckwith from Pursuit of Tea and Benoit Breal from Saxelby Cheese to conduct a tea and cheese pairing.
Teas ranging from whites to pu-erhs will be paired with local seasonal cheeses.

I’ve participated in a tea pairing Melanie conducted in the past and was blown away by how beautifully tea and cheese go together – better than wine in some cases (blasphemous, I know!). I’ll let you know how tonight goes.

Coincidentally, Serious Eats just ran a piece  today about the new shop and Melanie’s involvement – she is supplying them with tea-centric baked goods including a Macha Loaf that is exceptionally moist and delicious.