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Archive for March, 2009

A fantastic vineyard where we went for a "tasting" and were treated to a 6-course Italian feast with LOTS of wine!

A fantastic vineyard where we went for a "tasting" and were treated to a 6-course Italian feast with LOTS of wine!

Nectars of the Gods? You bet. Especially when you are staying in a rustic B&B on an organic vineyard in the hills of Tuscany. Which is what we did last May. They made their own wine, olive oil and honey on site, and we consumed generous quantities of all 3. I will never forget those tastes: straight from the rich, green countryside. Now that the brief warm spell in Colorado has vanished and we are once again plunged into low temperatures of 18 degrees and highs in the windy, chilly 40’s, I’m dreaming of Italy more than ever.

It is truly the land of food and wine. Olives, kale, artichokes, rosemary, lavender, fennel, thyme, basil, tomatoes. And that’s just what was growing in people’s gardens and out of the cracks in their country roads. In May. The actual cooking there was a daily revelation for me. How just 3-4 ingredients could taste so incredible is still something I marvel at. The rich soil, sun, and – must be – all that love really do create foods so innately luscious and dripping with flavor that they need no further embellishment. In Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, she has two chapters of ultra-simple, elegant recipes that I fell in love with as I was both eating and reading about the native cuisine – things like marinated bell peppers or a basic polenta. It doesn’t get much easier than that, and it sure doesn’t get any better.

An old stone wall along a Tuscan roadside. I found fennel, thyme and other herbs growing in between these stones. The landscape is a giant pantry!

An old stone wall along a Tuscan roadside. I found fennel, thyme and other herbs growing in between these stones. It was like walking through a giant pantry!

Just a few of the typical Italian goodies lining the shop windows in towns.

Just a few of the typical Italian goodies lining the shop windows in towns.

The drive leading to our old stone house B&B on an organic vineyard, 5 miles up a long hill from the town of Greve in Chianti.

The drive leading to our old stone house B&B on an organic vineyard, 5 miles up a long hill from the town of Greve in Chianti.

What would a visit to Italy be without gelato? The incredible flavors tasted as fresh and tangy and luscious as they looked.

What would a visit to Italy be without gelato? The incredible flavors tasted as fresh and tangy and luscious as they looked.

Most of our days consisted of walking for miles through countryside like this, eating unbelievable food, and finally collapsing into an exhausted heap at night.

Most of our days consisted of walking for miles through countryside like this, eating unbelievable food, and finally collapsing into an exhausted heap at night.

A touristy food shop in San Gimignano. The Italian wild boar is the source of some supposedly incredible 'salumi,' though I did not consume any myself.

A touristy food shop in San Gimignano. The Italian wild boar is the source of some supposedly incredible 'salumi,' though I did not consume any myself.

I think more food blogs should focus on settings - where food is eaten. This picture is one reason why. We ate dinners and liberal quantities of red wine, cheese and salumi here with a view of the distant hills and sunsets. I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself it really happened...

I think more food blogs should focus on settings - where food is eaten. This picture is one reason why. We ate dinners and liberal quantities of red wine, cheese and salumi here with a view of the distant hills and sunsets. I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself it really happened...

Here's one of those sunsets, as seen from our dinner table.

Here's one of those sunsets, as seen from our dinner table.

The extremely charismatic Sienese pig - the source of some very fine prosciutto.

The extremely charismatic Sienese pig - the source of some very fine prosciutto.

Parting shots, for now: produce at the Saturday market in Greve...

Parting shots, for now: produce at the Saturday market in Greve...

...and il Duomo in Florence, under construction, at night. Not a postcard shot but worthy of my wonderful memories nevertheless.

...and il Duomo in Florence, under construction, at night. Not a postcard shot but worthy of my wonderful memories nevertheless.

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Posting a recipe just for whipped cream seems a bit silly, but since it’s winter and there’s not much else to do, we’ve been making a lot of desserts around here, and that’s made me think about cream. The truth is that it’s a very long way from Cool Whip or even whipped cream from a can to the sinfully delicious heavy smoothness of real whipped cream… and if you add just a couple of nifty little extras, you can take the experience from sinful to otherworldly. Ok, darned close.

Want to add that little extra something to your dessert experience? Here’s how I make mine, and I learned this from an extremely gifted chef and mom who never cut any corners, even when she was tired, in the kitchen; eating her food was always a multi-sensory, highly sensual experience. I’ve still never had a home-baked New York style cheesecake anything like hers.

Susanna’s Whipped Cream

ready for the totally un-scientific quantities and instructions? here goes.

pour your cream into a large bowl. 1 pint, or less, doesn’t matter.

start whipping it. when it gets a little thicker, add just enough POWDERED sugar (emphasis on powdered – it won’t give your cream that grainy feel!) to make it sweet but not quite as sweet as the dessert you’ll be topping it with.

add a dollop of real (emphasis on real) vanilla extract. Just a little splash. If you’re making the full pint of cream, it can be a slightly more generous splash.

finish whipping the cream to your ideal consistency – nice, soft peaks…

just before serving, add in a few grinds of fresh (emphasis on fresh) nutmeg, whip it in briefly, then dish cream out into a large bowl for passing – or for the dessert bar.

This is really, truly… the very best.

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