Friday, June 3, 2011

Last day of class, Last day in Florence

Friday June 3, 2011

First, I would like say Happy 20th birthday to my brother Pat!

Today was the last day of class. It started out with a final that was made up of multiple-choice questions and a few short answer questions about the Italian culture and recipes we made in class.  There was also a cooking section of the final, as well.  Chef Tommaso chose the Risotto with Asparagus recipe we had made our first week of class, for our exam.  He measured all of the ingredients for us while we were finishing the written part of the final.  We had to make the risotto by memory (which was easy for me since I make risotto a few times a month at home!).

The other groups seemed to be finishing up their risotto very quickly, even those who had started after me, Liz, and Erica.  Chef Tommaso began to worry us saying that he thinks ours may be over-done.  We were a little nervous, but I kept reminding myself that he has been impressed with most, if not all, of our recipes. Plus-- I am Queen of risotto!!!

After about 25 minutes we finally finished up our risotto with asparagus and plated it!

Chef Tommaso was ready with fork in hand and immediately stuck his fork into our risotto dish, even though I was still setting up the plate.  He took a bite, said nothing.  Took another, mumbled something, and then took a third, and still said nothing.  No facial expression.  Nothing.  Our immediate thoughts were that we over cooked it, or there was not enough salt!

He went over to the group behind us and tried theirs.  When he finished trying their risotto he explained that he said nothing about ours because he wanted to get to the other groups while it was still hot.  And then he held up our plate, pointed, the great words “This is perfecto!!!”  We had made the best risotto out of the entire lab!  It was cooked to al dente and had a perfect creamy texture. AND the perfect amount of salt!!!! We had finally done it!!

At the end of class we said our goodbyes and took a class picture.  This was undoubtedly my favorite class I have ever taken.  Better than any undergrad and graduate level class, by far!  It was something different instead sitting in a lecture room.  I got to do one of my favorite things to do in the world, cook!  And what no other place to do it than Italy!

After class Becca, Erica, Liz and I went to a famous sandwich shop for lunch known as the Oil Shoppe.  I got a sandwich on wheat foccacia bread with turkey, roasted eggplant, roasted tomatoes, provolone cheese, and pesto.  It was DELISH!

After, Erica and I made one last loop around the leather market.  We each bought another purse—not planning on it.  BUT it was such a great deal!! Way too good to pass up!  Before heading back into the apartment Erica and I saw Ronnie from Jersey Shore!

I went on my last run around the city and now doing last minute packing and then off to our last dinner and gelato here in Florence!!  Our bus leaves at 10:15 PM from Florence and will arrive in Rome at 2:30 AM.  It’s going to be a loooong night.

One last Ciao from Florence!

Molly Jean

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blueberry Steak and The Secret Bakery

Thursday June 2, 2011

Aqua al 2 was amazing!! We ordered a pasta sampler to start out with, which included 5 different pastas, chef’s choice.  The ones chosen were a broccoli and rigatoni pasta, strawberry risotto, artichoke and fusili pasta, and gnocchi with a roasted red pepper sauce.  Of course the gnocchi was my favorite!! I absolutely loved the roasted red pepper sauce!  We had asked to have the strawberry risotto included in the sampler, but I was a bit disappointed.  But it gave me a new recipe idea to try at home for my next risotto creation!!

Broccoli Pasta

Strawberry Risotto

Pasta with Artichokes

Gnocchi with a roasted read pepper sauce

Next came our steaks!!  Four of us ordered the Balsmic steak and four, including myself, ordered Aqua al 2 famous blueberry steak so that we were able to share.  The steak to was cooked perfectly medium-rare. 

The blueberry sauce was incredible!  It was not too sweet and did not over-power the steak at all!  Who would have thought blueberries would taste so great with steak??  But, I must say, after trying the balsamic steak, I liked it much better than the blueberry.  The balsamic reduction sauce was the perfect sweetness and just so incredible.  It is something I may have to try with steak at home!

blueberry steak

cooked perfectly!

Balsamic Steak

We also celebrated Liz’s 25th birthday at the restaurant.  Lacey and I were sneaky and slyly asked the waitress if there was anything that they could put together, dessert-wise.  The waitress insisted on a dessert sampler.  When they brought out the desserts with a candle we all sang happy birthday, including the other restaurant guests!! Judging by Liz’s surprise look and smile, she had no idea what was planned!

birthday girl!!

Dessert sampler: cheese cake, chocolate cake, custard tart, and tiramisu

After the restaurant we headed over to Kakuya for some drinks.  Most of us ordered their specialty, Dragoons.  It is an incredibly strong beer with high alcohol content, so me being a lightweight, I ordered by usual half pint.  When it began to get late we headed over to Space, a famous club in Florence. 

Baby Dragoons!

We danced the night away, and our huge dinner, to make room for the secret bakery!  There are a few secret bakeries in Florence.  They are not supposed to be open at late hours, so there is s sign on them that says, “please be quiet.”  But, the few scattered around Florence supply late nighters coming back from the clubs and bars with their wonderful, straight out of the oven pastries for 1 euro or less.  I ordered myself a Nutella filled croissant.  It was definitely worth staying out late for!!

enjoying my secret bakery!

Nutella filled croissant!

As I mentioned in my last entry, today is an Italian National Holiday, marking the day Italy abolished the monarchy and became a republic. So there is no class.  Just packing, studying for our final, and getting in our last few meals and gelato!!


Molly Jean

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Ganzo, Wine Tasting, Last "real" day of class

Wednesday June 1, 2011

Yesterday for lunch I joined Becca and Erica at the Ganzo for lunch.  The Ganzo is Florence University’s “dining hall.”  It is set up more like a restaurant.  Once you are seated you are brought a basket of bread and water!  You are also handed a sheet you are to fill out to place your order.  You can make your own salad or Panini., order their pasta of the day, or a dessert.  I chose to build my own salad, which comes with greens, 5 choices of toppings (I chose pear, cucumber, onions, grilled chicken, and walnuts), and a choice of dressing. 

The salad was amazing!!! I feel like it has been days since I have eaten a plate of veggies.  The salad was HUGE, so I think I’m set on my veggies for the remainder of the week!!

Later in the evening was the wine tasting.  We went to a place called Pozzo Divino.  When we arrived we were taken to the basement where six other people were sitting that were joining our group of nine for the tasting. The basement used to be where prisoners would hide during the Renaissance. (fun fact…)

Lacey, Me, Missy, Erica

The beginning of the tasting we ate Tuscan bread with extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany, as well as a 10 year aged Balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese.  We were explained the origin of the olive oil and vinegar, how it was prepared, and the ingredients.  

Soon we were given our first wine, which was a Tuscany Chardonnay (Serparo Leonardo Chardonnay).  We were taught to look, smell, and taste the wine. If you are able to read your watch through the white wine, then it is perfecto!! They discussed the difference between French and Italian Chardonnay in that the Italians do not have to put theirs in barrels to preserve (therefore making the Italian chardonnay way better, of course…).  The wine was excellent!!  With the wine we were served Parma Proscuitto, which is what we had learned about in class yesterday!!

Looking at my watch through the Cardonnay

The second wine was a Chianti Classico, Tuscany’s most famous wine.  The bottle was labeled DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)   meanding that the grapes and ingredients are from Tuscany and prepared in the chianti region.  Chianti Classico must be made with 80% Sangiovese grapes, and the readt can be prepared with any other fruit.  The Chianti we drank contained cherries and flavorings of the wood from the barrel, which gave off a slight peppery taste.

Chianti Classico

After discussing the Chianti we were given two different salami’s to taste. We were to leave some of the Chianti to compare with the next wine, Super Tuscan, a red wine blend.  This was my favorite.  It contained green pepper, which I would have never been able to pick out if I was not told.  It also contained vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Super Tuscan- red wine blend

Our group with Pino!

After we finished we headed over to Grom’s for Gelato and then off to Galleria dell Accademia to see the famous David.  Admission was free tonight!! We went to see David immediately.  I was in awe as to how enormous the statue was, and the details were so specific.  You could see the veins in the hands, the indentations of bones and muscle.  We sat for about 10 minutes in awe of this gorgeous statue, reading from Audrey’s Rick Steves book!

After Erica and I decided to ride the carousel in Piazza De Repubblica.  We had been wanting to ride it since the day we arrived in Florence.  We were please to have crossed off 4 things on our list of things to do
1. Eat and The Ganzo
2. Wine Tasting
3. The David
4. Carousel

Today was our last true class before we take our final on Friday.  Tomorrow is an Italian National Holiday.  (June 2nd marks the day in 1946 when Italy voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and become a republic). 

We cooked Pannacotta and Veal Marsala today!! Erica and Liz worked on the pannacotta while I worked on the veal.  I had to remove the fat on the veal and then pound the veal to about ½ centimeter thick, which helps to make the veal tender.  Next I dredged it in flour and fried in a little butter and olive oil until medium rare, which is the typical way Italians cook the veal.  After the veal was cooked I added the marsala wine and 1 ladle of vegetable stock we made with water, celery, onion, and carrot.  The sauce had to reduce to half and then I added butter at the end to make the sauce creamy!  When Chef Tammaso acme to taste, it was the first time he did not tell us to put in more salt!!

The pannacatta was amazing!! It was easy to make, as well.  It is made up of  equal parts milk and heavy cream, as well as sugar, gelatin, and a vanilla bean.  These ingredients are heated in a sauce pan and then put in small tin serving dishes to be refridgerated.  Different sauces are usually put on the pannacotta.  In the winter chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffle are most often used.  In the summer fruit sauces are used.  Today we made a red wine reduction made with chiatni red wine, sugar, and 1 cinammon stick, reduced to half.  The sauce turned out beautifully!

It is raining right now L hopefully it will clear up so I can roam the town before a fabulous dinner at Aqua al 2 tonight for some blueberry steak and celebrating Liz’s (belated) birthday!!


Molly Jean!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dinner with Chef Tammaso!

Tuesday May 31, 2011

Can you believe it’s already the last day of May?? It’s amazing how time flies.  I missed a whole entire month in Cleveland!!

I would like to begin this entry talking about how incredibly fun dinner was last night!! When we approached Trattaoria Cammillo, Chef Tammaso was waiting for us right outside, eager for our arrival.  He had decided to join us for our entire dinner instead of just a cup of coffee!!  When we sat down at our table for ten we all waited quietly for chef Tammaso to tell us his favorite dishes, beginning with the appetizers, then to pastas, to main dishes, and finally dessert!

For appetizers we ordered white beans with tuna, fried zucchini, pecorino cheese is a crème brulèe style with balsamic, and as a surprise, chef Tammaso ordered some lard for us to try.  No one knew what the lard was, at first.  He had everyone try on a slice of Tuscan bread before telling us.  It was extremely salty and I had no clue what it was.  I didn’t know if I liked it or not. It tasted fine, but knowing that I was eating lard grossed me out a bit.

For the main course Laura and I split fresh fettuccini pasta with procini mushrooms as well as fried lamb with zucchini.  The pasta was amazing!!! The sauce was very light.  The lamb was very tender and wonderful, as well. 

The ten of us also split 3 desserts: tiramisu, pear cake, and a chocolate ganache cake.  All three were wonderful.  I loved the pear cake the best! I had never had anything like it!  After we left Cammillo chef Tammaso insisted that he treat us to Perché-no! gelato.  We were all extremely full, but took him up on his offer. 

This was by far one of my favorite nights here in Italy.  No one expected Chef Tammaso to actually show up to dinner, and even if he did, we did not expect him to stay the entire time, and then treat nine girls to gelato!  I could not have asked for a better class and teacher here in Florence!

entire group with Chef Tammaso

Student and teacher pic

The topic of today’s class was cured meats.  We discussed the difference between prosciutto in Parma and Tuscany.  Parma prosciutto is sweet because it is only kept and cured  for one week, making the prosciutto soft and tender.  Tuscano prosciutto is salty and is kept and cured from one-month to a full year.

We prepared 3 different appetizers using cured meats.  The first was melon and prosciutto, which is a popular summer dish.  The second was gamberoni al lardo (shrimp and lard).  This is a new combination.  Lard used to be used for everything when cooking, such as in soups, stuffing meats, etc… Now it is a delicacy.  It is much more expensive and used in appetizers such as this one.  We cleaned the shrimp, wrapped them in the lard, which was sliced thinly, and placed them on a slice of Tuscan bread to cook in the oven for about 10 minutes.  The third appetizer was Crostini con salsiccia e stracchino (toasted bread with pork sausage and stracchino cheese).

I was the only one to try the shrimp and lard from my group.  It almost reminded me of bacon wrapped shrimp, but a little more salty and greasy.  The melon was wonderful!! So juicy and sweet.  The saltiness of the prosciutto caused the melon to be extra juicy.  The sausage and stracchino was also good, reminding me of a sausage and cheese breakfast sandwich.

This afternoon I am going to lunch with my roommate Becca to what is called The Ganzo.  It is FUA’s “dining hall.”  This evening, our group of nine has a wine tasting scheduled and then we are going to Galleria dell Accademia to see the famous David!


Molly Jean 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunset (Finally!!) and Tiramisù

Monday, May 30, 2011

Last night Becca, Erica, Liz and I went up to Piazzale Michaelangelo to FINALLY watch a sunset.  We had been up once before during the day time and all of us were in awe of the view of the entire city of Florence. The sunset made it incredibly more beautiful with the sky painted in orange, pink, and blue.  We took many pictures as we watched the sun go behind the mountains in the distance.

After the sunset we walked back down into the city towards our apartment to search for something to eat.  We stumbled across a Ristorante Pizzeria and Wine Bar 100 Posti.  We pass it every morning on our way to class and I had always admired how cute it looked with the white wood and decorations.  I ordered the chefs spaghetti special which ended up being a seafood pasta!!! It was a pleasant surprise!  At the end of our meal our waiter gave us a complimentary shot glass of limoncello. It was a little too strong for my liking and I was barely able to get it down.  I did my best to drink half, but the burning of the vodka was not satisfying.

Today’s class we made Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant parmesan) and Tiramisù.  The preparation of the Eggplant used in today’s lab was that similar to what is used in Sicily and southern Italy.  The layers go as following
1.     1. Tomato sauce (which we made with olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, and tomatoes)
2.     2. Eggplant (we sliced and fried in oil)
3.     3. Tomato sauce
4.     4. Parmigiana
5.     5. Mozzarella
6.     6. Basil
7.     Repeat 3 times (last layer with no basil so it won’t burn)

In Naples Eggplant Parmesan is made differently.  The eggplant is dredged in flour and egg and then fried and a piece of mortadella di bologna is place inside.  The Sicily one seems a lot more appealing than Naples, and it was fantastic!! Another simple dish to prepare at home, but instead I would either grill or roast the eggplant, instead of frying.

The Tiramisù was a bit of a struggle for me.  The first step was to do a procedure known as pâte a bomb, which is a procedure used in culinary schools and professional kitchens to sterilize the egg yolks to prevent salmonella.   In today’s lab we used only 2 eggs for the recipe.  The steps for pâte a bomb are as follows
1.     1. In a small sauce pan place 200 grams of sugar with some water to make a simple syrup and heat to 121°C.
2.     2. Meanwhile, separate the egg yolks from the whites and place in separate bowls
3.     3. Once the simple syrup is heated to 121°C, place 50 grams into the bowl with the egg yolks and whisk until creamy.

After the pâte a bomb was complete I add the marscapone cheese and then egg whites (whisked to soft peaks).  Next the Lady Fingers were dipped in heated coffee and layered between the marscapone mixture.  The Tiramisù was then chilled for 30 minutes and then ready to enjoy, with a sprinkle of cocoa powder on top!! It was quite delicious, although I wish we had chosen to put the rum in the coffee to add that extra kick like the restaurants use of coffee liqueur.

Chef Tommaso was please with both of our completed dishes, although the eggplant parmesean needed more salt, as always!

Tonight our group of nine (Erica, Liz, Becca, Shep, Audrey, Missy, Lacey, Laura, and I) are going to Chef Tammaso’s favorite restaurant Trattatoria Cammillo.  He was so excited that we wanted to go he called and made a reservation for us and promised that he would join us, not for dinner, but for some coffee.  He says it is the best!!

I will let you all know the details tomorrow!!


Molly Jean

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cinque Terre

Sunday May 29, 2011

After class on Friday Shep and I hurried back to our apartment to pack up and leave for the train station.  Erica, Liz, and Becca were leaving at a later time because Becca had class (plus and exam) until 5:30!

The train left around 1:30 PM (or should I say 13:30… I still haven’t gotten the whole military time thing down yet.).  Shep, Audrey, Missy, Lacey, Laura and I were off to our first destination in Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore.  As the train approached our final stop the sea appeared off to the window on my right hand side.  We all gasped with excitement!  The water was so blue and incredible as waves crashed against the rocks.

As we got off the train we were welcomed by a cool breeze—something we were not used to in Florence and the 90-degree humid weather the city has had over the past week.  It was overcast, but it did not phase us one bit!! We were too excited to be in a place so beautiful as this.

First look of Cinque Terre

Our hostel, Cinque Terre Holiday, was only a five-minute walk from the train station.  After paying and getting our keys we were taken up A LOT of stairs.  Huffing and puffing the entire 5 to 10 minute walk up, we finally made it to a building that looked like an apartment complex.  We did not know what to expect from the hostel.  The hostel employee walked us into an awkwardly and extremely decorated orange apartment!  We got extremely lucky, especially for only 30 euro each for the night!! The apartment had 2 bedrooms, one with room for 5, the other for 4.  Both of the bedrooms looked out to the sea.  It also had a kitchen, fully equipped, a dining room, one bathroom, and a balcony!!

Happy with our hostel we were hungry and ready to make our way back down the millions of stairs to find a place to eat.  Audrey had Rick Steve’s Cinque Terre book which we have been using many of his suggestions throughout the trip.  The book led us to La Lampara.  To start off, we ordered a bottle of the White House wine since Cinque Terre is known for their white wine instead of red.  We were very impressed with the choice of wine we ordered another bottle!!

In Audrey’s guidebook, Rick recommends the Seafood Pasta in Tin Foil.  I decided to go with the recommendation and was very pleased with it!  It had mussels, clams, shrimp, and crab.  We also ordered some dessert. I decided to go with the Tirmasu!

Calamari Appetizer

Seafood Spaghetti

After dinner we went over to Bar Centrale for a drink as we waited for the other girls.  We saw a few other girls from the ISA program walk by and told them to join us at our apartment after they were finished with dinner.  The remainder of the night we played “Dings” which we all defined as Kings with a dice, since no one had brought cards and we had found an orange fuzzy dice in our apartment.  Erica, Liz, and Becca finally showed up and it was soon time for a good nights sleep before our long hike!!!

My last “This is one of the best days/moments of my life” occurred near my departure date for Italy.  It was my defense presentation for my Master’s Project.  This meant I was so much closer to being done with Grad School! And I also didn’t have to worry about it my last Fall semester.  I only bring this “one of the best day/moment” up because Saturday was just that.  And it was way better than any relief of completing a project presentation!!

We all awoke Saturday morning (which was also Liz’s 25th birthday!!!) around 8:00 to being our day.   I immediately looked out the bedroom window to see the sun shining and clear blue skies over the sea.  We checked out and began our day with a hearty breakfast to give us the energy we would need for our hike.  We finally began around 10:00 to bein our hike from Riomagiorre to Manarola.  We hike way up high on hillside where we were able to have view of the water.

Once we got to Manarola, we had to catch a train to the next town, due to a landslide.  With an hour to kill before the next train we walked through what seemed to be an agricultural tour path.  The path went upwards which allowed the view to get better and better with each steps.  The colorful buildings were bright and stuck out with the crystal blue water surrounding.  The site was breath taking.

The train took us into Corniglia, the third town, where we immediately had to climb steps to the top to the center of town.  Rick Steve recommended we stop to have wine at Il Pirun in cà dà Nita where it claimed that we were ablt to get a glass of wine for only 3 euro!  The owner Leo was there and he gave us his house white wine (the bottle had a picture of him!!) He gave us olives and garlic chips to snack on.

He also allowed us to taste two other whites as well as drink red wine from a decanter in which he gave us bibs to use in case we were to spill. 

Around 12:30 we made our way to the fourth town, a 90-minute hike away.  The path started to become more difficult.  There were long stretched of going upward as well as rocky and uneven pathways going down.  The sun was beaming down and we all began to sweat.  The cool breeze from the sea allowed us to keep cool.  Also, the site and view of the sea and the next town made us eager to continue.  We finally arrived in the fourth city, Vernazza!  Taking Rick’s suggestion, once again, we stopped for lunch.  We found a group of restaurants by the bay area that was filled with colorful umbrellas.  We all sat down and immediately asked for 4 bottles og “aqua natuerelle.”  Cinque terre is known for their delicious pesto sauce, so I went with Alfolie (a pasta they are known for—not quite sure how to spell it) and pesto.  Once again I was very pleased and satisfied with my decision!!

After lunch we continue to the final town, Monterosso. It was another 90-minute hike, and the most difficult one.  With our bellies filled with food, we began going up and up and up, which went on for a good hour.  This part of the hike was definitely good for the glutes!! Still, no complaints came from anyone’s mouth.  We were all in awe of the view, still taking pictures every chance that we got! 

Finally around 4:30 PM (16:30) we made it to Monterosso.  We scurried around for a facility to change into our suits and made our way to the beach!  After setting my towel and bag down I walked towards the water, which was quite painful since the beach is not made up of sand.  The water was ice cold, but refreshing.  I went into the sea up past my stomach and quickly went closer to the shore.  I could not handle the ice cold water!!

me and Laura

I went back to my towel where we all rest for about an hour before we had to go to the train station to buy our ticket to head back to Florence.  As I laid there I played back the entire hike in my head, thinking about the most breathtaking and gorgeous scenery I had every scene in my entire life.   I wish that I had words to describe it, but I lack in my writing capabilities.  You will just have to see it for yourself! (or just look at the pictures).

We left Cinque Terre around 7:00 and arrived in Florence around 9:30 PM.  We grabbed a “Kebab” for dinner (similar to a Gyro, but with turkey/chicken meat).  I ended the night grabbing some gelato with Liz for her birthday over at Perché-No!  By midnight everyone was exhausted and passed out. 

It was our first morning to sleep in since we all had arrived in Italy, and it was much needed after a long day of hiking.  Becca and I woke around 10:00 AM and dressed to go to Mass at Santa Croatia Cathedral.  The entire mass was in Italian, but some how was able to understand what was going on. 

I just returned from The Diner, which is exactly what you can find in America!! It was perfect.  My eggs benedict and fruit definitely hit the spot! Now I'm off to the Leather Market-- hopefully my last time-- for some last minute gifts!


Molly Jean