Mar 31, 2013

Bologna, making pasta

I hope you are ready for a feast of food posts because I've been in what is known as "the stomach of Italy" for 4 days. This region is home to parmigiano reggiano, balsamic vinegar, ragu, and prosciutto d'parma.

So my stay all starts with 1 italian teacher, 2 italian cooking instructors, 3 different pastas, 2 sauces and 5 very full

That's my lovely little ball of pasta dough waiting for help from the teacher.

Me trying to figure out why my circle of pasta dough is not getting any bigger.'re not supposed to roll it at an angle like that.

Some of our handiwork. Yes we made this tortelloni!

A few Bolognese food tidbits
-tortellini are small (7 to a tablespoon) filled with meat served in broth. Tortelloni are bigger, filed with ricotta and parsley (or spinach outside bologna)
-uses onions not garlic
-pork used to be the primary meat, all of it, due to availability. Now there is often a combination of pork and beef in ragu for example.
-a perfect dollop of sauce on your pure white pasta is all wrong
-they put Parmigiano cheese on everything, "yes, even in our toothpaste" chides our cooking instructor.

Our teacher demonstrating how to shape gnocchi.

One finished product: tagliatelle with ragu-wow

Now, I have ordered gnocchi many times at various restaurants in the states, it sounds like a good idea right? Dumpling-like pasta made from potatoes. But, I have to admit, I have always been disappointed with heavy gummy unsatisfying little lumps. Then I had this...

This is what gnocchi is supposed to taste like: light, fluffy little pillows of heaven. If I can recreate this at home you're all coming over for dinner.

Mar 30, 2013

Zurich with CHOCOLATE

The goal: find MY favorite Swiss Chocolate
How: visit as many chocolate boutiques as my feet and stomach can handle
The method: buy 3 chocolates from each store with the following criteria.
Chocolate 1: should be a "like" chocolate across all stores for a baseline comparison.
Chocolate 2: one of my choosing.
Chocolate 3: one recommended by an employee of the chocolatier.

Disclaimer: The findings in this post are the opinion of the writer. The writer recognizes that others may have a different opinion and that's OK, because it leads to more wonderful chocolate in the world. Also, there are many other chocolatiers not mentioned in this post. This is not due to the quality of the chocolate but the state of the writer's feet and chocolate threshold. Yes, there is a limit to the quantity of quality chocolate one can consume in a day.

The first stop: Confiserie Sprungli

The heady aroma of rich chocolate is stronger than even the feast for the eyes; the shelves and cases lined with bright colored packages for Easter and individual truffles, pralines and goodies all waiting to be taken to good homes. Squishing through the crowded space I order my first 2 pieces, then ask for the Sprungli associate's favorite. Which brings a smile and a recommendation. I take it. We chat. I share it is my first day in Switzerland and she says, "you are starting with the perfect place".

Next stop: Truffe

This store is different. No individual pieces, but bars and box assortments collected from a variety of Swiss chocolatiers all handmade. It doesn't fall within my criteria, but I can't resist. The lovely conversation with the owner and the lavender packaging won me over. She, the owner, is from Firenze she came to Zurich for love. Her grandmother is from Bologna, my next stop. Speaking of "home," she has been in Zurich for 20 or 30 years. She has wonderful friends here. But they don't share a history of growing up in the same community with the same people. That is home. Pondering this and hoping I always remember her sparkly earrings, tawny red hair and pink necklace I leave in search of the next shop.

Teuscher Confiserie

The smell here is even sweeter then Confiserie Sprungli, more vanilla. It is dripping with flowers and Easter. The associate recommends a nougat. A soft chocolate center with a crunchy outer layer robed in another layer of chocolate.

Aeschbach Chocolatier

Meandering across a bridge I find Aeschbach Chocolatier. The smell here is fruitier, with a hint of spice. When asking for a favorite I'm directed to an orange marzipan or dark chocolate ganache topped with apricot. No contest--apricot. With a knowing look, her response is "good choice".

Confiserie Honold

Last stop Confiserie Honold. I'm overwhelmed by the crowd, all of us standing around the counter trying to get someones attention. I don't smell anything, maybe the attached cafe is sucking away the aroma of chocolate. I order my 3 pieces. Part 1 of my mission complete.

Behold the beautiful Bounty

There were alot of exceptional contestants.
With chocolate covered hazelnuts, a fleur de sel carmel, and the recommendation, a dark chocolate ganache with hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder, Confiserie Sprungli is MY winner.

I don't know what they do to the hazelnuts, some kind of crunchy sweetness. Each of their pieces struck a chord with me. So divine...I went back the next day and bought 3 more.

So the smiling Sprungli lady was right, I did start with the perfect place.

Mar 29, 2013

The Benefits of a Hotel Hair Dryer

I took a huge risk: traveling WITHOUT hair dryer.

For those born with silky smooth hair I am envious. You my sophmore year of high school wavy, frizzy, unmanageable-in-wet-weather-hair came, uninvited and never left. Back then, there were no anti-frizz products, or brazilian blowouts. Heck, I didn't even know about the magic of a round brush. This was before Friends and all the "how to's" that came with the Jennifer Aniston haircut. A major requirement for taming this rat's nest is a strong hot hair dryer.

note: the only lasting cure I'm aware of is pregnancy. My sister is living proof (seriously, is that what I have to do).

So now you understand the magnitude of this challenge and why I am grateful for a hat. Sorry you are seeing the same hat in EVERY SINGLE PICTURE. Believe me you don't want the alternative. Oh and it's cold too.

So here's a little review of the hair dryers I've encountered.

Hotel in London: had hair dryer. Good start. Strengthened my index finger because constant pressure was required to keep the dryer operating. Also developed skills to coif hair by touch, as the dryer was attached to the wall and not near a mirror.

Hotel in Paris: I felt like someone from Tatooine was going to walk in at any moment and ask for their jet pack back. This one worked surprisingly well.

Hostel in Bergen: had a real hair dryer. Great! Could not use it because the roommates were asleep until 11:00. The bedroom was the only place to use it. The shaggy puppy dog look makes an impression at church in a foreign country. accommodation in Oslo: We have a winner! A real hair dryer in the bathroom available to plug in any outlet.

There have been other high/low points, like the fantastic hair dryer in Sweden and the not-so-good frizz inducer in Czech Republic, so please keep this in mind as I post pictures like the following...because the scenery is just too amazing not to post this picture of my boofy mane in Dozza, Italy or...

this hat hair (not to mention the closed eyes or goofy pose) overlooking Bologna, Italy.

Mar 23, 2013


Thanks to all those who voted earlier in the week. And not just "thank you for voting" but for sending me on the most beautiful train ride to date. I started in Prague with a connection in Linz Austria. From Linz we went through Salzburg and the Tyrol mountains. I really was singing, "the hills are alive with the sound of music". And my neck hurts from craning to see the views. Here are some of those vistas. Please don't mind the stripeys and glare, those are from the dirty train windows.

I have ONE goal while in Zurich and it may have something to do with this

Mar 22, 2013

A morning walk in Prague

May I please buy an adjective? I can't think of enough to appropriately describe the scenery around me.

We stayed in a "charming" hotel, above the castle away from the city center, but still only a short tram ride from all the action if you didn't feel like walking. The staff was fantastic. Oh and yes, it's part of the monastery.

Exiting our hotel and then the monastery walls through "enchanting" archways...

To this "idyllic" landscape...

On "time worn" paths...

Past "enigmatic" doors...

Over the "grand" Charles Bridge...

To find yourself with this "splendid" view...

Is a "sublime" way to spend a final day in Prague.

Mar 21, 2013

Spring for a Day in Prague

The sun came out for one glorious 50°F shining day. I am THAT happy about it. Along with it came the birds and all the other tourists. You could hear them singing (people and birds). It's a wonder how a blue sky makes everything more beautiful.

Your brain teaser for today: What are the 11 differences you find between these 2 pictures.


Mar 20, 2013

Prague, Progressive Feast

What has 37 ingredients, is 8 years old and is from Geneva?
The sauce on my Entrecôte at this restaurant.

Yes we are in Prague right now eating at Cafe de Paris, but it comes recommended in Where Chefs Eat and from our Taste of Prague tour guides. The sauce was delicious served with beef, french fries, and a salad with sinus clearing horseradish dressing. And our servers were endearing.

Now back to our Taste of Prague tour. We spent 4 amazing, taste bud tickling hours on this tour. Our guides were a delight. Not only did we taste prague food, but we received a good helping of Czech history and warm hospitality.

We started at Cestr, where meat is the main course, every part. And the menu changes twice a day based on fresh ingredients. There must have been 15 different dishes on our table. My favorites were the chicken with stuffing and truffle sauce, fried cheese, and golden muscle (cut of beef) with goose fat sauce.

This restaurant butchers their own meat. The meat is brought in from a local provider and it is stored in-house. Those numbers on the glass refer to the age of the cow and the number of days the meat has been aged.

After the meat course we shared some sweet items. Ice cream and sweet poppy seed rolls in a vanilla foam. These rolls are a typical Czech item that may be served as a meal. Sweets for a meal, I'm game!

We then went for a walk down Wenceslas square to our next stop to try typical Czech fast food, an open faced sandwich with a variety of toppings. A few typical items include potato salad as a spread (instead of mayo) and a Czech pickle.

At Choco Cafe we had these lovely little pastries that are only made by one bakery in the country. Only 2 people know the recipe. "They say" they are not allowed to travel on a plane together. You dip them in the chocolate. Or you can drink a whole cup full of the chocolate.

Here our tour guides and group enjoyed the last hour together. This was the perfect way to spend our first official day in Prague. Our guides were fantastic, sharing their perspective and enthusiasm for Prague. When you're in Prague I highly recommend a Taste of Prague tour!

Mar 19, 2013

Brrrr in Bratislava

Slipping in the Slush
Bryndzové halušky nice waiter
Where is Old town, hmmm

Tips for 3 hours in Bratislava.
-If you worked in a dark dingy train station you might be grumpy too
-the "left luggage" area closes for 30 minutes at 10:45 making your 3 hours 2.5 hours
-the 10 mile hike (ok 1.5 mile hike) in the snow up to Bratislava castle is worth it
-There are cool blue doors here too. I can't get enough of them
-Sheeps cheese gnocchi with bacon warms you up real quick
-Look real close there are guards in front of that building
-If you miss Old Town on the map you don't have time to go back and find it
-3 hours is not enough time to see a city, but enough to cross it off your list

And the most magical moment of the day...


...when your taxi driver goes through this arch to deliver you to your hotel in Prague.