Monthly Archives: November 2011

Latkes with Fried Eggs and Roasted Tomatoes

I know it’s a little too early to start thinking about potato latkes, since the first night of Chanukah is not until December 20 this year. But I have a good reason for posting about them now. You see, ever since I saw Chuck Hughes  make these on his show, “Chuck’s Day Off”, it’s all I could think about.

Now, before you continue reading any further, I must warn you that I am about to gush big time. So, if public displays of affection make you at all uncomfortable, perhaps you should stop reading this post right now. To be perfectly honest, Chuck’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. You may recall that I posted about Chuck in April, and then again at the beginning of this month. I guess you could say that I’m a bit smitten with him. For the record, I am happily married (not to Chuck!), but celebrity crushes are permitted. I think it’s actually healthy for our marriage.

For those not familiar with Chuck, check out this short video of him on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.

Chuck cooks on his day off for friends, family and his suppliers as a way of saying thanks. In one episode he made adobo pork shanks, fried rice and pineapple coconut pie for Edgardo and Burt, the father and son team that cleans his restaurant. How could you not love this guy?

He made these latkes for his pots and pans suppliers. He topped them off with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a fried egg. And on the side, he served roasted grape tomatoes and sautéed zucchini. The first time I tried the recipe, I made it exactly as Chuck did, but to be honest, the ricotta and the sautéed zucchini really muddied the flavours of the potato and egg. The roasted tomatoes, however, really brightened up the whole dish. Their acidity balanced the richness of the fried potato and egg.

Chuck’s latke method is more like the Swiss dish “röesti potatoes”, than traditional potato latkes. He parboils the potatoes first, then shreds them and mixed them with onion, chives, eggs, cayenne, salt and pepper. I gave his method a whirl but must admit, I like using grated raw potatoes. I find you get a crispier latke that way.

Grape tomatoes get a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and some thyme.

After 45 minutes in the oven they come out all wrinkled and sweet.  They can be made in advance and sit at room temperature while you make the latkes and fry the eggs.

Click here for my version of Potato Latkes with Roasted Tomatoes.

The Best Thing I Ate Today in Umbria Day 10 (Our last day!)

Before I get down to the business of reporting on Day 10 I am excited to share with you the debut post of a brand new young food blogger. (O.K, full disclosure here, it’s my daughter, and I couldn’t be prouder). Check out her first post at

O.K. back to Day 10 in Umbria.

My original plan, when I embarked on my trip to Umbria, was to blog at the end of each day, about the single best thing I had eaten. Boy was that a naive plan! First of all, trying to narrow down the best thing you ate all day, while travelling through Italy, is no easy task. Almost every morsel I put in my mouth had me declaring, “Could be the best thing I”ve eaten today!” Secondly, after attempting to blog on my first night, full with both food and wine and exhausted from touring all day, I quickly realized I would not be able to write a very coherent post. So I decided to take lots of photos and notes and do it all when I got home. I arrived home on Sept 25! It has taken me over 7 weeks to post about all 10 days, but here we are, finally at the end.

We decided to just hang out at our incredible villa for our last day before the magic was over, and we all turned back into pumpkins to return to our real lives. Although, the body shapes of some of us was beginning to resemble pumpkins, after 10 days of eating our way through the Umbrian countryside. Over breakfast we just feasted our eyes on the incredible views from our terrace.

Liria, our wonderful host, volunteered to give us a cooking class this morning. She offered to teach us whatever we wanted to learn. Without even hesitating, I told Liria I needed to know how to make pappa al pomodoro, the Tuscan tomato bread soup I’d eaten at Cibreo in Florence. Without a doubt,  this was the best thing I ate on our trip. I was smitten with this soup.

We gathered in the kitchen and Liria outfitted us with out aprons, chef”s hats and gloves. Gloves??? Wow, I was impressed. When I remarked to Liria how blown away I was with her attention to hygiene, she laughed and said, that she only wears the gloves to protect her manicure and figured  that we were like-minded women. Boy, had she pegged us right!

The kitchen here at the villa is a sight to behold. I coveted it all, but most especially, the induction cooktop. I had always thought that a gas cooktop was the best, but the temperature control you get with this cooktop is incredible. The marble  back splash was nothing to sneeze at either!

We began with fresh plum tomatoes, basil, spring onions and salt. They were simmered for about 15 minutes and then transferred to a food mill for processing. The food mill is an extremely handy kitchen tool. The skins and seeds of the tomato are separated from the flesh and no peeling is required on your part! It also makes incredible applesauce (no peeling required) and wonderful, fluffy mashed potatoes. We all got a chance to have a spin.

While the tomatoes were being milled, Liria gently simmered some garlic, basil and, her secret ingredient, whole cloves, in a generous glug of olive oil. I was shocked that she used cloves. They are one of the few spices I can not stomach the aroma of. I find them extremely cloying and leave them out of every recipe that calls for them. Liria said that she only uses 4 of them for a huge pot of soup and you can’t really taste them. They just add a background note that enhances all the flavours. She stressed that low heat is key at this stage, as you do not want to brown the garlic, as it would become bitter. After a 10 minute low simmer, the tomato puree is added and that cooks for an additional 10 minutes.

The final addition is breadcrumbs to thicken the soup.

After an additional 10 minutes of simmering, the soup is ladled into bowls and finished off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh julienned basil.

Click here to get the recipe for Papa al Pomodoro.

 After lunch we had a chance to tour the gardens and see all the fresh produce that grows here at Casali di Monticchio. Grapes, eggplant, olives and figs are just a few of the things we observed, in addition to chickens in a coop for farm fresh scrambled  eggs every morning.

 For our farewell aperitivo, Liria pulled out all the stops and fed us a feast. Even the villa dog, Parcetta, perked up when the prosciutto came out!

I feel so grateful to have such wonderful and loving friends to have shared this incredible journey with. What a ride it’s been! Thanks to all who have followed along to read about our adventure.

The Best Thing I Ate Today In Umbria Day 9

Just realized I completely forgot to tell you all about the best thing I ate each and every morning for breakfast at our villa, Casali di Monticchio. Each morning Liria and her daughter Johanna, set out a buffet for us. Before we arrived, an e-mail went out to all the guests asking us about our food preferences. Apparently 12 out of 18 of us requested non-fat greek yogurt and berries with granola for breakfast. I know… we are such an exciting bunch! I will not divulge what the other 6 asked for.

Each morning, I started my day with had a bowl of yogurt with fresh berries, sometimes ripe peaches and bananas and always a small handful of this incredible granola sprinkled on top. It was sweet, but not too sweet, had lots of nuts and seeds and some coconut and just a few dried fruits. But the best part was that this granola had huge clumps. Everyone always eats the big clumps of the granola first and leaves the little crumbs in the box for the end. This granola had very few little crumbs and lots of huge clumps which maximized the yummy crunch factor! I needed to get Liria’s secret granola recipe. When I finally remembered to ask her this morning, she went into the kitchen and came out, sheepishly holding a huge bag of Kellogg’s fruit and nut granola. I have been searching for it ever since I came home but can’t find it. I think it is something developed for the European market. It will haunt me for a very long time.

Fortified by this excellent breakfast, about 8 of us headed off on the mini-bus, with Claudio, our ever-faithful driver, to the outlet malls. When we were first planning the trip, my travel agent, Linda, looked over the itinerary and noticed that we had not scheduled any official shopping time. WHAT?? How could I have forgotten to do that? When I asked her what she would recommend, she quickly responded that we must visit the outlet malls, situated just outside of Florence. When some people hear the words, “outlet mall”, the adrenaline starts pumping through their veins and their pulse starts to race just a bit faster. I’m just not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I get just as giddy as the next Canadian woman when I come within a 1 mile radius of a Target store, but outlet shopping always ends up disappointing me.

The clothes are usually just heaped on shelves and racks and I find that so aesthetically unappealing. I just don’t have the vision or the patience to sort through it all. The changing rooms are usually scuzzy and they have a limit on the number of items you can take in. Sometimes the change rooms do not even have mirrors and you have to come out to look in the mirror in a general changing area. I hate that! And finally, most of the stuff in outlet stores is the kind of stuff you would have felt quite “fashion forward” in last year but left you asking, this year, “What was I thinking?”

After I explained this all to Linda, she started to laugh at me. She explained that Italian outlet Malls are nothing like North American ones. They are very high-end and while the items may be last season, most of the designs are so classic, they will become wardrobe staples for a very long time. My girlfriend Marla is an excellent shopper. She has incredible patience and stamina, both of which you need in abundance to shop sales and outlet malls. She has a knack of combing through the sales racks and finding that one gem. That one flexible classic piece that can be dressed up to go black tie or can be worn with jeans to go for coffee. I love to shop with her, follow her into the change room and try on all her rejects. All the glory and none of the hard work. Luckily, she would be joining us on the outlet shopping trip in Italy.

The build-up to our shopping day was kind of intense. We decided to visit “The Mall” (it’s actually called that!) and “Space”. The Mall is a beautiful high-end outdoor outlet shopping centre located in the town of Leccio, about a 30 minute drive from Florence. Shops at The Mall included a veritable who’s who of big name designers.  Alexander McQueen, Armani, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Hogan, Loro Piana, Marni, Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Sergio Rossi, Stella McCartney, Tod’s , Valentino, YSL, Zegna. “Space” is the Prada Outlet store. There was quite a discussion about which to visit first, “The Mall” or “Space.” We had heard that there were huge lineups at Space and they only let 100 people in at a time. In developing our strategy, we consulted Liria, the owner of our villa. She advised us to visit The Mall first and then Space. She said that lineups on a weekday in September would not be an issue.

When our bus pulled up at The Mall, Marla had her shopping strategy well mapped out and made a beeline to the Marni store. We all followed her like baby chicks after their mother hen!  The mall was everything Linda had promised. The grounds were beautifully manicured, the stores well-lit and appointed and all the wares were beautifully displayed. You would never guess you were in an outlet mall. The staff all spoke English, and were very helpful. No attitude at all. The changing rooms were large and well-lit  with mirrors. Best of all, there was no limit on the number of items you could take in at once. We were very successful at The Mall, and most of us found at least one or two treasures. My brother-in-law, (first photo in this post) was happy to be our bag mule as long as we fed and watered him.

I was so busy trying on clothes and attempting to keep up with Marla’s speedy pace, that I only managed to take a few photos. Most of these are from The Mall’s own website.

After The Mall, it was off to Space, the Prada Outlet. Located in an industrial area, just outside the town of Montevarchi, there were no identifying signs to let you know you had arrived. I guess Prada does not want to advertise that they have an outlet store. Try as they may to hide this outlet store, Claudio, our trusty driver, managed to ferret it out!

There was no line-up at all when we arrived, so we sailed right in. When you first enter the store, a very handsome Prada model hands you a ticket with a number on it. This is your PIN number for the day. You are not allowed to take items you wish to purchase from one department to another. Once you try the item on and decide you want to purchase it, you hand the items over to a sales associate and they set it aside with your PIN number. When you are all done shopping, you proceed to the checkout and all your items magically appear. Luckily, you are still able to change your mind at the cash and they don’t even get snarky about it!

Prada knows a thing or two about merchandising. Upon entering, straight ahead, front and center, is the shoe department. Like moths to a flame we were drawn right in! Purses, accessories and collection pieces are on the right hand side of the store and skin care, sunglasses and sportswear flank the left side of the store. Menswear, as usual, is buried at the back. I’m always surprised that men don’t have a complex about this.

Although this was an outlet store, the displays were quite beautiful and there was a large selection of items and sizes. I managed to find a beautiful black cashmere sweater for 70% off and a cute little evening bag to bring home to my daughter, as a consolation prize for daring to go to the Holy Grail (Prada Outlet) without her! Prices were really good. One friend bought two purses, one for herself and one for her sister. (Lucky sister!) My sister-in-law got some gorgeous shoes that we all coveted. All in all, a successful trip!

Stay tuned for Day 10 (our last day before going home – sob!) when we get a cooking lesson from Liria, in her fabulous kitchen!

Molten Caramel Cake

There is a cerulean blue file folder, sitting on my desk, to the left of my printer. It contains recipes and cooking ideas that I hope to try out one day. Some of these recipes I have printed off the internet from food blogs, Food Network shows and other food related sites. Others are torn from the pages of various newspapers and magazines. It is an unweildly bulging mess. Every so often, I go through the folder, and toss out things that no longer appeal to me in my current state of mind. For example, last week I tossed out a recipe for Poached Tongue with Tangy Tomato, Olive and Caper Sauce. The week before, I threw out a recipe for Malabi (a Middle Eastern milk pudding). What was I thinking?

And then there are the recipes that never get a chance to make it into the “to try one day” folder. You read about something or see a chef prepare it on TV and you are immediately mobilized into action. You must make it NOW! It’s all you can think about. That happened to me last week. I had several other pressing matters (like making dinner) to take care of, but I just ignored them and began rummaging in my kitchen cupboards to make sure I had everything I needed to make Molten Caramel Cake.

When I watched Chuck Hughes prepare these little cakes on his Food Network show last week, I was transfixed. First of all, molten caramel! Who even know you could do molten caramel cakes? Of course I had heard of molten chocolate cakes, but caramel…I just never imagined such a glorious thing. I am not a huge fan of the chocolate variety. Warm gooey chocolate just doesn’t do it for me. I like my chocolate like I like my men… solid! Caramel is a completely different story. Caramel is meant to be warm and runny and sticky. These little cakes are amazing. They take about 10 minutes to put together and 15 minutes to bake. Almost an instant dessert. You will not be sorry you ignored everything on your TO DO list to make these. Trust me, they’re worth it.

White chocolate and butter are melted, then whisked together. While I was waiting for the white chocolate to melt, I took a picture of my newly organized pantry shelves.

I just have to share with you these new storage containers I am currently obsessing over. They are made by OXO Good Grips. They’re amazing for a few reasons. First, the seal is extremely airtight. Second, they are square so you can fit more containers in your space than round containers. Third, the tops are flat, so they stack very well, also maximizing space. And finally, they are so much fun to open. Watch my demo video!

Once the white chocolate and butter are melted, whisk in some ready-made dulce de leche. The Presidents Choice brand is quite good. And Williams Sonoma makes a delicious one as well, according to my sister-in-law.

It is important to take the time to whisk the eggs and sugar together properly. It takes about 5 minutes to get the mixture to double in volume.

After 15 minutes they were done. We waited about 45 minutes before we ate them, but they would be wonderful hot from the oven too. The magic happens when you stick the spoon into the middle of the cake and warm caramel comes oozing out. What could be better?  They were still delicious the next morning for breakfast with a latte.

Click here to print the recipe for Molten Caramel Cake.