Canned Vegetables to Carbonara: A Look into my Mom’s Culinary Journey

My whole family is very into eating healthy, we share recipes, ask questions, and get ideas from each other. We love quinoa, produce and veggies, and lean meats. Growing up, however, we ate butter top wheat bread, fish sticks and packaged pasta. Change is the word I would use to describe my family’s eating habits, and my mom agrees, since she was really at the front of it all.

“I’ve always been interested in food and being healthy,” my mom said, but she never had the time to learn deeply about it, so she read about it in magazines and online. She says the processed and packaged foods we ate when we were younger was mostly because that’s what kids liked, and that’s what was easy.

Now, she loves cooking, and has passed that love on to both my sister and me. We’re no gourmet chefs, but we’re always looking at recipes and trying new ones. Her favorite is anything Italian, we love a good pasta, but she gets especially excited (I can personally attest to this) when she makes a successful carbonara. When she visited me in Italy last spring, we spent her and my sister’s last day roaming around Campo de Fiori purchasing spice blends with hopes to bring some of the authentic Italian flavor back to America, and she bought a bag of carbonara seasoning. When she makes the dish using the spices, the end result is a blissful meal reminiscent of Roma.

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Alone in the City of Love

Paris: the city of love and all things beautiful; the people, the landmarks, and the food. There I was in Paris, alone, solo, Krysta party of one.

It was spring break of my semester abroad, and shockingly enough, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to spend four days in Paris with me, so I booked the plane tickets and the hostel and went anyway. I was not about to miss out on this city because my travel plans weren’t lining up.

Traveling alone and being alone is an adjustment, you’re not really talking to anyone, and your schedule is all your own. It definitely had its perks. On my second day there, I had gotten an early start to my day so I could beat the lines at the Eiffel Tower. After enjoying Paris’ most notable landmark, I snagged a baguette and headed for the Champs Elysees. The weather was cold and cloudy, and what better time than now to have authentic French Onion Soup. I used my handy Trip Advisor City Guides app for Paris and searched French Onion Soup, read a couple reviews, and mapped my way to the restaurant. I was seated and began looking at the menu, even though I already knew what I was going to order. They plopped a basket of bread down in front of me and I began devouring it, and shortly after I ordered, I had a bowl of steaming L’oignon grantinee in front of me. The gruyere cheese covered the bowl and dripped seductively down the sides. I broke through the cheesy barrier to a brown broth and the scent of cooked onions. There was some kind of brown bread turned sponge in there along with seemingly unending onions. Each spoonful of cheesy, hot, sharp, oniony goodness graced my tongue with its flavors and warmed my body. I continued to make quite a dent in the bread basket, despite my baguette on the walk over.

As I savored the soup, the restaurant began filling up, couples, co-workers, friends, families, all piled in to the tables around me, and I sat there with my soup and my bread. It was in those moments that I came to appreciate my solitary status. I was eating perhaps the best bowl of soup I ever had, and I was in Paris for goodness sake. It didn’t matter that I was alone, and I let go of any stigma of traveling by myself and truly came to enjoy it. And from that moment on, I did. I finished my soup and instead of asking for the check and heading out, I ordered a caffe latte and watched the people come in and out while I sipped my drink. I could have been sitting there sipping and smiling for all I know, because I was finally at ease with my loneliness. When I did finish, I waltzed out the door, smile on my face, and set out to enjoy the rest of what Paris had to offer me. Just me.

 

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Chopped: Sweet Pesto and Toasted Bread

“One of you will be Chopped,” I try to imagine Ted Allen saying to me and my invisible competitors as I begin to create what is hopefully a Chopped Champion worthy dish out of much simpler basket ingredients: sugar, bread, and pesto.

I could have done one of two things with pesto, made my own or bought pre-made pesto sauce at the store. I decided to make my own and to add a little twist, I would use sugar in the sauce since it was one of my ingredients. I went out and bought basil, a baguette, sugar, two heads of garlic, parmesan cheese, and cappellini. So began my adventure of pesto cappellini with homemade croutons and sliced bread.

I chopped up the basil, added in a few cloves of garlic, chopped it until it was fine, and then added in the olive oil and blended it until it was a smooth sauce. I tasted it and wow was it garlicky. I put some on a piece of the baguette and handed it to my boyfriend who told me it burned his tongue because the garlic was so overwhelming. I was hoping that the sugar I had to add in as one of the basket ingredients would sweeten it up and cut the bite from the garlic, so I put in a few pinches of sugar and blended it up again. Once the sauce was done, I heated up the oven, cut the baguette into both slices and tiny squares, rubbed a clove of garlic on the sliced pieces of bread and put it all on a cookie sheet in the oven. The bread toasted, I cooked the pasta, heated up the sauce, and grated the parmesan to both mix into the sauce and sprinkle on top, and all the components were ready.

I prepared them as beautifully as I could (Chopped inspired) and snapped a few pictures, then it was time to taste. I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce, it was definitely still a zing from the garlic, but the sugar helped a bit without making it overwhelmingly sweet. My boyfriend thought it was still a bit too potent for his palate, but he liked the overall flavor of the sauce and so did I. The ‘croutons’ were a little too toasted and were pretty crispy, but the crunch of the crouton and the smooth chewiness of the al dente cappellini provided a great texture combination.

Things I will change when I make this again: I will remember pine nuts, an essential ingredient in pesto sauce, I will only put probably one clove of garlic in, and I will take the bread out of the oven much sooner. I did, however, love making this sauce from scratch for the first time and enjoyed the challenge of incorporating sugar into an otherwise savory dish.

Hopefully I’ll make it to the dessert round with this one.

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The Smoking Kitchen

“Open all the windows, I’ll get the back door,” I yelled, smoke filling the kitchen and living room area. I frantically turned off the stove and threw the burning pancakes in the trash. How on earth did I possibly burn pancakes? Well that’s exactly what my friend Eve asked me, since I had just filled almost her entire downstairs with smoke from something I boasted about making frequently and deliciously. To this day, I’m going to stick with the fact that I had never cooked on her stove before and was using a different pan so I didn’t know how hot it would get and how quickly it would cook.

Nonetheless, I had spent the night at Eve’s house and being that we were carless 16 year olds, breakfast in was our only option. I told her I make a mean chocolate chip pancake and set about whipping them up. Honestly my cooking shame has blocked out exactly when they started burning, but the next thing I knew I had black objects on the skillet in front of me and smoke was everywhere. She accused me of not really knowing how to make pancakes that well and I continued to repeat that I had never cooked on her stove before and it just got hot so fast.

Although it isn’t an explosion of ingredients or a cake that never rose, it was a kitchen disaster by my standards. My pride was hurt and my pancakes were burnt.

Filling Friday: An Exploration of the Mission District Food Scene

Pastrami, pigs, and La Palma. Sour rye bread, bittersweet mustard, and spicy salsa. None of these things sound great together in one meal but in three of the seven food establishments I visited on Friday in the Mission District of San Francisco, all three of these savory food items were part of my three favorite Mission eateries.

Pastrami sandwiches are not something I typically go out of my way to enjoy, but at Wise Sons, a pastrami sandwich on house made rye bread with house made mustard is essential. The flavorful pastrami piled high on the soft bread with the homemade mustard combines to make not only a trifecta of sour, salty, and mustard with a punch, but also of texture. Chewy, tender pastrami, smooth mustard and soft, doughy bread make the traditional pastrami sandwich from Wise Sons a must have. 

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Pig and Pie. Pig and Pie. Pig and Pie. The naming is straight forward and the products are too. All products are made in house, the brats, the sauerkraut, the mustard; the only thing brought in from outside is the rolls the brats are served on. At Pig and Pie the owner came out and spoke to us and told us the process of making his food, reminding us that in these bratwursts we were getting only natural ingredients, no byproducts like commercially produced hotdogs. The only thing missing from this European inspired dish was a cold pilsner, which I only didn’t partake in due to the fact I was on a school tour.

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La Palma was exactly what I was looking for on this food tour. I wanted hole in the wall, little known, family owned restaurants, and that’s what La Palma was. We crowded around the few tables on the side of the restaurant and waited for the huarache. The hot, soft masa with black bean paste, and the crunchiness of the cabbage and salsa, and then the creaminess of the queso fresco that was crumbled on top was a warm combination of texture and flavor with a spicy kick at the end. It was a dish I had never had before, and one I would certainly have again; it was authentic and fresh.

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The Mission district is now a combination of original, ethnic cuisine and new, up and coming eateries. While both have their charm, I have to say the authentic cultural spots were more interesting to see and felt true to the neighborhood. That being said, the quality of the food at all of the places we visited; these three plus Mission Minis, Local Mission Eatery, Taqueria El Farolito and Humphry Slocumbe Ice Cream all had unique, natural, and local flavors that I would certainly indulge in again.

 

What exactly is ‘nidi’?

Nidi: it means nest in Italian.

And what this meal was, a nest of happiness.

My most memorable meal just happens to be the most delicious in my recent memory, but that’s not the reason it’s the one that comes up as my most memorable (there are certainly others, but this one is most fresh – voluntary memory). I was in an adorable town in the Tuscan countryside of Italy called Orvieto. It was quiet and it seemed like the group of us from Study Abroad Italy were the only ones roaming the tiny cobblestoned streets that day, but that was probably because just minutes earlier (and minutes later) the sky would open up with 40+mph winds and hail. I was in Orvieto with my study abroad company, but it was just three friends, Lisa, Katherine, and Kelsey that visited this family owned trattoria down an alley in Orvieto. It was recommended to us by SAI and the menu looked awesome when we walked by, but it wasn’t open. So we walked down the street to a chocolate shop and indulged our senses there, and with promise to return to buy chocolates for the bus ride back to Rome, we headed back to the trattoria – eager for lunch. It was still not open, so we waited outside while the waiters smoked out the side of the kitchen door next to us. Finally, about 15 minutes later, they opened up and seated us. The place was tiny. Probably about 6 tables or so, but its walls were painted yellow and you felt at home when you sat down. The waiter brought us the menu which included the wifi password (which is how I figured out what nidi was!). We perused the menu, my friend Kelsey and I decided to split a ragu sauce pasta and the nidi di rondine, pecorino e miele caldo (will get to how I remembered this exact name in a moment), or nest pasta with pecorino and hot honey. I had just discovered the blissful combination of cheese and honey on this weekend trip to Tuscany and was very excited about this dish.

When the meal got delivered, there were two ‘nidi’ on the plate, so Kelsey ate one while I enjoyed the ragu sauce dish, and then we switched. This moment will be engrained in my mind forever, I took a bite of the nidi and was in foodie heaven. The perfectly al dente pasta was soft and fresh, and was wrapped around warm, soft pecorino and the whole thing was drizzled generously with incredible Tuscan honey. The sharp and powerful flavor of the pecorino combined flawlessly with the sweetness of the hot honey. It was a dish that was so unique, yet so simple, which is one of the best things about Italian cooking; they don’t need a laundry list of ingredients to make a delectable dish, they know the flavor profiles of things and how to make something so simple taste so great. As I was enjoying every bite of this simply perfect meal, the sun was shining in (after absolutely crazy weather the whole day), and the yellow walls made the whole place just feel warm and homey. I was sitting at this adorable trattoria in Tuscany with three girls who two months earlier I never knew existed, and with my roommates back in Rome turning out to be not the greatest people, I was finally enjoying a fun, drama free weekend with genuinely nice people. I wasn’t thinking about anything but enjoying the company I was with and the meal I was eating. This meal will always be a memory of my time in Europe not only because it was my favorite meal, but because I really felt it was a quintessential study abroad moment: new friends from all over the country, a quiet hilltop village in Tuscany, and perfect food. This is what I came to Italy to do. Perfetto. 

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Photo credit to: http://frnickolas.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/037.jpg

Comment about this photo and finding it: I was so enamored with this meal that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of it, and if Kelsey did, I never saw it! So, when writing this post and looking for a photo, I just Googled ‘Nidi with cheese and honey’ and not one, but TWO blogs that I looked through had been to the exact same trattoria in Orvieto and had this meal, so this is THE meal, just not my meal. Thank you to the owner of the above credited blog for capturing this wonderful meal…and for making me drool.