Friday, July 31, 2009

New Address!!!

After residing for about a year in Blogger, I decided to move our residence to Word Press. I really wanted to expand my blog's functionality and make it easier for my readers to navigate through all of the different recipes on my blog.

If you are a reader on this blog, please update your link to reflect my new blog. Thank you for reading my blog!!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blueberry Pie

Last weekend, I picked up a big container of blueberries at Sam's Club. Not only that they were round and big, they looked so juicy that I had to buy it! So what do I do with 5+ cups of blueberries? Red suggested that we make a blueberry pie to go along our homemade fresh peach ice-cream (will post the recipe later) for our anniversary celebration this weekend! What a great idea! In the spirit of trying to save myself some time, I actually used frozen pie crust this time.

Adapted from Allrecipes


3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups fresh blueberries
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon, and sprinkle over blueberries.
Line pie dish with one pie crust. Pour berry mixture into the crust, and dot with butter. Cut remaining pastry into 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide strips, and make lattice top. Crimp and flute edges.
Bake pie on lower shelf of oven for about 50 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream

This post is way overdue! Summer has gone by way too quickly for my liking. Between our big trip in June, weddings, and activities with friends (most of them includes food of course!), I have realized how much behind I have been in my blogging activity.

We went strawberry picking during the 4th of July weekend and I came home with a tummy full of fresh strawberries and about 11 lbs of these homegrown goodness. Since Red gave me an early birthday present of ice-cream attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer, I knew right away that we were going to make some sort of strawberry frozen treats. I can eat ice-cream every day, and this was the one thing that I had to give up so I could fit into my wedding dress last year (yea, that's right, I grew 1/2 inch four weeks after I bought my dress!).

At first, we thought about gelato (couldn't find a recipe that we thought was original enough?), and then we wanted to try frozen yogurt (and this did not go well! Who would have though that we could not, I repeat, could not, find a whole-milk yogurt in any of the grocery stores around where I live!). Thankfully, we found this Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book.

We decided to use our strawberries to make Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream. We did not have a whole milk in the house, so used skim milk instead, and we could not taste a difference! The other thing that we noticed was that this treat was a little bit sweeter than my liking, although Red liked it the way it was. I think the challenge here would be to balance the natural sweetness of the fruits and how much sugar to add into the mix! I loved having chunks of strawberries in my ice cream.

Either way, we absolutely loved this recipe, and would probably use this base recipe for our future ice-cream adventures!

Sweet Cream Base
Adapted from Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Book

2 large eggs
¾ cups sugar
1 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.
Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, and then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more.
Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.
Makes 1 quart.


1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cups sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Sweet Cream base

Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.
Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Prepare the Sweet Cream Base. Mash the strawberries to a puree and stir into the cream base.
Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make generous 1 quart.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oatmeal (C)raisin Cookies

My husband loves all cookies and he thinks that I don't bake enough cookies for him. So when I saw this recipe that promises big crispy raisin oatmeal cookies that are soft-goey inside, I was sold! They were, in fact, as delicious as they looked!

Warning: this recipes makes EIGHT dozens, that's right... EIGHT dozens! If you have extra room in your freezer, this is a great recipe to keep handy for those days when you need a last minute dessert that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

Adapted from: Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Yield: 8 dozens

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raisins -- I used craisins, since I was too lazy to go out and buy raisins

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; stir in the coconut. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy; 3-4 minutes. Add the maple syrup and mix to combine. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until well-combined, about 1 minute, escaping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two batches; mix until just combined. Add oats and raisins; mix until combined.

Shape 3-level tablespoon of dough at a time into 1½-inch balls (or use 2-inch ice cream scoop) and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.

Let cookies cool on sheets for 2 min, then transfer parchment and cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at a room temperature for up to 4 days.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BB: Peach & Blueberry Crumbles

I was so excited when I saw that Aggie of Aggie's Kitchen selected the Peach and Blueberry Crumbles for our 2nd recipe in June especially since we're in the smack of summer where sweet peaches are plentiful! I made a similar variation of this recipe a while ago, Plum & Raspberry Crumble from Barefoot in Paris and loved it.

We took this dessert to our friends who invited us over for an intimate cook-out on their backyard, while watching fireworks celebrating the Hudson Hometown Days. We all absolutely adored the flavors. It was very light without being too heavy. Although, I was a little bit disappointed that I had brought it over to their house baked (covered with a foil), it was a lot "soggier" than I had expected once we opened it a couple of hours later.

Fortunately, this recipe made a lot more than what I had expected! was able to split it up into a Le Creuset oval dish and 4 Le Creuset ramekins. The one in Le Creuset looked soggy so I didn't take picture of it, and instead took the pretty pictures of the ones in ramekin for the blog!! I used 8 fat peaches and doubled the blueberries (used frozen ones!)--and the sweetness was just right.

For the fruit
2 lbs firm, ripe peaches (6-8 peaches)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh blueberries (1/2 pint)

For the Crumble
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 lb (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until their skins peel off easily. Place them immediately in cold water.
Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl.
Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, granulated sugar, and flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries.
Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes.
Spoon the mixture into ramekins or custard cups.
For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas.
Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it’s in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit.

Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and back for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you want to make these early, store the unbaked crumbles int he refrigerator and bake before dinner.

Serves 5 to 6.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Florence Trip Report - Part 1


We stayed at Bed & Bed Peterson for six nights, at 59E/night. We found this great little hotel through recommendation on travel talk. They don't normally offer breakfast, but I believe due to the length of time that we stayed at their hotel, they gave us a small continental breakfast during our stay, which we gladly welcomed! There is an espresso machine and a small refrigerator in the common area which all of the guests can use (there are four other rooms in addition to ours), so we only had to purchase some fruits and yogurt for additional breakfast. There's a small grocery store that sells fruits and basic breakfast food within 5 minutes walking distance from this hotel.

The room was roomy, bright with big windows, and clean. The location though is a little bit out of the way. It's about 5-10 minutes walk from the main Santa Maria train station. We decided to take a bus sometimes from in front of our hotel to our destination, and walk back to the hotel because the weather was warmer than what we had expected for June (in the high 90's).

The owners were kind and very accommodating. I had requested to borrow a hair dryer upon booking, and while I was there, they realized that they had to purchase a brand new one because all of the supplies they had were checked out. I thought that was unnecessary, and was grateful that they went out of their way to do this!


1) Chianti Wine Tour with Tuscan Trail

I found this tour through internet search and was extremely happy that we booked with them. At 75 Euro/person, this was the most economical tour that I was able to find.

Todd Bolton, a California native who has called Florence his home for the past 7-yrs, took us through 2 wineries, about 30 minutes outside of Florence, where we tasted probably 8-10 wines and a couple of olive oil.

We also stopped for a lunch at a nice restaurant between the first and second winery .

This was a very nice and convenient all-inclusive package, which also includes the cost of transportation from Florence and back. I took the Robert Mondavi Tour while Red and I visited Napa last year and I can say that we got a lot more out of Todd's session! I highly recommend his service and would book him again in a heart beat if we return.

2) Bologna Cooking Class with Illaria De Fidio

I also found Illaria through many web searches. I was originally booked with Cook in Italy, but then she accidentally booked her vacation days on the day that I was going to be in Florence. Lucky for us, we found Illaria. Illaria runs a charming Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Bologna, and teaches cooking classes to some of her guests who are interested.

She started our day by taking us through the market. We arrived sharply around 10AM, and we walked to the nearby markets.

She walked us through all of the different shops that she usually frequents and gave us overview of the all variety of pastas, meat, cheese, and vegetables.

We even got to sample some of the cheeses and the fancier cousin of (American) cold cut meats!

Then we started making our homemade pasta, ragu sauce, and veal ala Bolognese. It really started with a very simple ingredient: flour, eggs, and water.

Depending on the weather (humidity and temperature), Illaria can sense how much flour and water ratio! Now, that's quiete a skill!

While it sounded very simple, this was the most difficult part! You make the dough first.

Then... ROLL it with the palms of your hand... for what felt like an eternity!

The pasta must be thin enough that you can see through it, of course, ours was uneven, and not thin enough!

We ran late because we couldn't get the pasta to be thin enough as Illaria would like it to be! So we went ahead and started cutting it.

The key here is that you should put just enough flour while handling the pasta that once you cut it, it will nicely seperate itself when being gathered into a bundle like this picture.

After this was done, boil the noodle in a big pot of boiling water with salt. No oil, just salt.

On the same time, we also made the ragu sauce and the veal cutlet with prosciutto & parmesan cheese.

The ragu and the veal parts were pretty simple!

Needless to say, the technique is very similar to what I would do here.

Get very thin slices of meat, dip them in eggs and roll them onto bread crumbs-- and pan fry them! Now, the parmiggiano and the prosciutto made them a little fancier!

After slaving away in the kitchen for about 4 hours, we finally got to enjoy our fruit of labor with Illaria!

Next installment: Restaurant in Florence...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

BB: Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

While I was soaking up the Tuscan sun last month, I secretly missed my blogging activity, especially since I had to miss the June recipes. Our first recipe for July was Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, selected by Cat from Delta Whiskey. Even though we just spent 16-consecutive days eating pastas, pizza, gelato, and everything Italian, I decided to go ahead and make this since not only all of the ingredients are simple... Ina's recipe rarely fails me!

I did not plan to make any substitutions in this recipe, but I ended up doing some, because I was too lazy to go out and pick out the remaining ingredients. I used cherub tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes and I actually welcomed the sweet addition to the salad (and it wasn't a whole pound as the recipe called for, it was almost a half pound). I also used regular canned black olives, my fave, and I think this was why my pasta salad turned out to be very colorful (not a bad thing!)

I did use a very good olive oil, which I picked up during my trip to Italy, so it was perfect use for this salad. Overall, I was very surprised how light but satisfying this recipe was. This was a perfect summer dish. I want to thank Cat for such a great selection! We paired this salad with our pizza, using up the leftover grilled meat that we had!! Another great Ina's recipe, which I know that I will make again before the summer ends!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rome Trip Report

I was lucked out to find this charming 4-room Bed and Breakfast on a 2nd floor of an apartment building, B&B Baldassini in the heart of Rome. Not only that it's only 5 minutes walk from the Pantheon, this hotel was within walking distance of good restaurants, grocery stores, ATMs, a travel agent (where we purchased all of our train tickets for the rest of our trip in Italy), and gelatarias!

The owner, Francesco Carta, was very accommodating. He served us our breakfast in our room, which I loved, so I could take the time to just savor all of the great selection and discuss the day's plan with my husband! Breakfast was abundant: coffee, tea, yogurt, fruits, cereal, cheese, ham, bacon and eggs. One thing that we wish that we would have known sooner was that he was a sommelier! Had we known that he had wealth of knowledge on wine, we would have grilled him more to give us more recommendations on wine!

We stayed 2 nights in their small room, for a rate of 100 Euro/night (a private bathroom right outside the bedroom) and another 2 nights in their larger room for a rate of 150E/night (with in-suite bathroom & small refrigerator). Upon departure, Francesco gave us a small parting gift of Italian coffee maker and a package of coffee so we could make our own Italian coffee at home. How thoughtful!

He also gave me a discount code for other future guests who may be interested in staying with him (For 10Euro off your final bill, use this code: BBB791).

Restaurant & Gelataria Reviews

Maccharoni, Piazza delle Coppelle 44, (around the corner from our hotel)
We saw this place recommended on Frommer's, Francesco recommended it, and it's very close to our hotel, so we decided to eat here one night. It's a large friendly restaurant with friendly service. Neither one of us wanted anything too heavy, so we each ordered a pasta dish (mine was a spaghetti carbonara, and DH ordered tortellini with walnut and blue-cheese sauce), and a 1/2 liter of the house red. We were too full for dinner, so we ordered a small refreshing dessert of lemon sorbet in vodka, served in a champagne glass. No esperesso for us, we needed our sleep! Bill came to 30 Euro. Food was good, but not memorable. An American couple over at the next tables left two bills of 50 Euro upon departure. As you can see here, you can really spend as little as 30E like we did, or go up to 100 Euro like they did. Also, if you're looking for something romantic and quiet, this isn't a good place. Our rating: 3.5/5

Pizzeria Baffetto, Via del Governo Vecchio 114
We landed at this place when DH and I decided that we wanted to have a light supper. It was around 9:45PM when we started standing in the line in front of this small pizzeria along with other tourists and locals, wanting a table. About 45 minutes later, they called us to settle into a table of two sandwiched between another two tables of fast talking Italians downing local beers and thin-crust pizzas. I ordered the house special, which was a Baffetto, pizza topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions, sausages, roasted peppers and eggs. DH ordered a pizza with sausages, onion, and cheese. The pizzas were cooked to perfection, and oh... so satisfying. The best pizza we had in Italy. Our rating: 5/5.

Osteria del Gallo, Vicolo di Montevecchio 27
We came here during our last night in Rome, wanting to have something a little bit more special, and saw the recommendation from the Frommer's guide book. We sat outside and ordered two pasta dishes to split, a salad (fresh buffalo mozzarella salad with hard boiled eggs) and 1/2 liter of house red. The portions were smaller than what I had seen at other restaurants, and the red wine was one of the worst I've ever had. Bill came to 34 Euro, they overcharged us, thinking we had the bread while we didn't. Our rating: 2/5.

Gelateria Giolitti, 3-5 Via Uffici del Vicario 40
This place, popular among the tourists and local alike, is supposedly the oldest ice cream shop in the city. Rating: 4/5

Blue Ice Gelateria, near the Trevi Fountain
We stumbled upon this place while walking around, and decided to stop. They had more of the non-traditional flavors with bright colors gelatos. They had probably the most generous servings of gelatos we've seen in Italy, and trust me, we visited A LOT! Rating: 3.5/5

-We made reservation for a taxi to pick us up at the airport, and we thought that it was worth it. Cost was 35 Euro. We used the Limousine Service (Alessandro Guastella +39-380-508-3981).

-After researching about whether to use the Roma Pass, we decided to go ahead and purchase it during our 3-day stay in Rome. At 23Euro/person, you'd really have to visit at least two museums and use the public transportation for it to break-even. We used this Roma pass to get into the Borghese (you will have to call the reservation line, and tell them that you will be using the pass to get in, they will then give you a reservation #) & the Roman Forum with the Colosseum. I found this pass very convenient because it cuts down the amount of wait time. For example, at the Borghese, I just needed to show them the pass and give them my reservation # then they gave me our tickets. For the Colosseum, I was able to use this as a ticket. We used the public transportation while going to the Vatican and also to Termini.

-The two places we made reservations for were the 1) Borghese Gallery and 2) the Vatican (the Roma pass excludes admission to the Vatican). We had to call for the Borghese, but made the Vatican reservation online.

-We also made our train ticket reservation at a travel agent directly across from our hotel instead of going to Termini. They did not charge us a booking fee. I had already researched the schedules for trains for the remaining legs of our trip, so I just showed the travel agent all of our desired departure times (to Florence, then from Florence to Venice, and finally to Milan).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Italy 2009 Trip Report

Rome (3.5 days), Florence (6 days, including two day trips: Chianti Wine Tour & a cooking class in Bologna), Venice (3 days), and Milan (1 day). We flew open jaw, arrival into Rome, and flying out from Milan.

My husband and I have always wanted to go to Italy (since neither of us have been there, except my husband who was there very briefly for work). We thought about going there for our honeymoon last August. However, I didn't have enough time to plan for the trip last year, while juggling a wedding planning, a new job, relocation, selling a house, buying a house, etc. So we decided on a "mini-moon" to Napa for 4 days instead so we could go right after the wedding. Luckily, a few months later we found great deals on tickets using our frequent flier miles to Italy, so we booked those tickets for June -- and my planning began.

Travel Style
I'm definitely in between the "fast & furious" and "slow travel" modes. My husband loves museums, arts and you can find him taking pictures of everything with his Nikon, while I prefer to just sit in cafe and people-watch, while taking in the view. Overtime, I have also grown to really enjoy the smaller towns more, with less crowds & it tends to offer a more authentic experience. I think that when I leave the "manicured tourist world", I get to really enjoy the locals and culture.

I get asked about this quiet frequently by my friends who are interested to plan their own trip, so I am going to talk a little bit how I usually plan my trips. I have never used a travel agent to plan any of my trips. I don't mind researching for the destinations reading guide books and the internet.

Tour groups are convenient for travellers who don't mind to be on a structured schedule during their vacation. I took a Contiki tour once, because I decided, a month before the scheduled departure date, that I wanted to go to Europe. So I booked one of their Superior tours, which at that time, they only took care of the hotels, transportation, some of the meals, offered some optional day tours and provided guides at destinations. They didn't really take us through all of the major attractions, so it was partially flexible to your own discretion.

For this trip, we did not purchase any new guidebooks. We got literally a pile of old books from friends who had been there before and we just estimated their prices printed to be about ~10% higher since they were from 2006.
I rely heavily on travel board for recommendations, tips, and answers to my questions. I have found the folks on Fodors to be kind, informative, and helpful during my six-years patronage on the board.

Rick Steve's
I use Rick Steve's guidebooks for tips & tricks on getting into major attractions, making reservations with them, hotels and some of the "budget-minded" ideas (i.e.: Where can I find a grocery store? Where can I find a laundromat?). I don't personally care with his restaurants' recommendations.

All of the guidebooks that I have purchased have been Frommer's. I like their writing style, with a little bit of history in each destination & some commentary on the attractions. I also found their restaurant recommendations to be more to my liking, although they tend to cost more than Rick Steve's.

Here's a list of some of the things that I try to plan for:
-Accommodation (as soon as I have the dates and a general idea of where I'd like to go, I book the hotels. The better-valued hotels tend to sell out months in advance, especially in Europe, during the high-season).
-Major attractions (that can be reserved ahead of time, so that I don't spend my vacation time standing in the line for hours at a time. Some places even must be reserved, or you will not be able to get in at all, like the Last Supper in Milan)
-Other special activities (for this trip, our Chianti Wine Tour with Tuscan Trails & cooking class with Casa Illara)
-Transportation to one destination to the next (train stations location, timetable, where to buy tickets, seat reservation, etc)
-Transportation within the city (I research to understand what my options are: walking vs. bus vs. metro, etc)
-Transportation to and from the airports at arrival & departure. This is one of the areas that I splurge by reserving taxis ahead of time.
-I also try to have an idea of the areas surrounding the hotel, and where everything is in respect to my hotel.

For this trip, my husband and I each took a 21-inch roller bag: mine was a Delsey Helium (light at 7-lbs when empty) & his was a Swiss Victorinox-brand. I also carried a leather cross body-purse which I can throw around my shoulder, while my husband had a small backpack which carried his camera, our guide book, and bottled water. We did a load of laundry halfway through our trip.

-I used my ATM card the entire trip. Not only that it has a better conversion rate, most places in Europe prefer cash (if not, they only accept cash), and they tend to have penalty for credit card purchases.
-I called my bank before I left and gave them the schedule of where I would be during my trip. I ask them to flag me when there is a suspicious purchase made outside the destinations that I had scheduled. You can also ask your bank to decline any transactions above a certain amount, just in case the card is stolen/lost.
-My husband and I felt safe the entire time during our trip. We were alert, just like we would when traveling to new places, but we did not cling to our belongings like a paranoid tourist. We did not have a money belt, or fanny pack.

Next: Individual Cities' Trip report, starting with Rome.