Monday, September 27, 2010

Tuscany, The Last Chapter

For the last past of our trip, we stayed a few days in Firenze (Florence). Busy city, lot's of road construction unfortunately at that time. Right outside the front door of our hotel for starters. We thought we wouldn't find the hotel as it was a front door and that's it. No big sign, no grand entrance, nothing. Just a small, fancy door amongst a pile of other signs and doors behind a few pieces of large equipment and construction fences. We finally found it by chance, The Waldorf Suite Hotel (http://www.waldorf-suite.it/en/index.asp). When we made it through the front door, relaxation set in. Nice place, very white inside, very fancy. The rooms were large and comfortable. We would stay there again as it was central (right across the street from the train station) and close to almost everything you would want to see or visit.

When we settled in, it was decided to head right out away and take a tour. As usual, it was a good idea to find out where the little spots were to have a bite to eat and have a glass of wine. This task took up the better part of the first day. At night, we wandered around some more and took in the sites while stopping at a small spot here and there for a little bite to eat. Easy to do and to eat healthy. You're walking around, burning a few calories while eating small portions as you go along. We probably walked for a couple miles the first night alone.

The second day was the day Mrs. Urban Eater wanted to look for the outdoor market and do some shopping. As we walked around through the mayhem, she noticed an indoor market in the middle of everything. It took me a bit, but then I realized I had seen this place on David Rocco's Dolce Vita Food Network TV show. This place was huge, kind of like the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, except better! They had 5 or 6 butchers, fresh fish vendors, more produce than you could shake a stick at and prosciutto was hanging everywhere. Quite a high end market.



It was pretty cool to see the vendors deal with their clients. These people have had a long standing relationship with each other for quite some time, and possibly their parents and grandparents as well. With hardly any room to move, the stalls which the vendors work out of are more like small shops.


 As I remember this trip, I can't help but think how much I learned about food. This was one of the main reasons I had always wanted to go there. Italy is one of the main areas in the world where cooking what you have from what is available around you is the way of life. It's just what you do. This is what I try to do in my kitchen everyday. Of course, over here we don't have the some of the same opportunities they do over there, but I see things are changing over here all of the time.

More and more people are going to the farmers markets now. This is a good thing as we have to support the people who work hard everyday to grow the best produce, raise the healthiest animals and grow the best crop in the fields so we can eat. The more organic and pesticide free food I can find, the better. The shorter the trip it has to take to get to the market where I go, even better. I will admit, I do but foreign foods as some of the high end stuff is not available here. I want quality ingredients so I can cook the best dishes for my family, no exceptions. I will support the locals however and whenever I can, but sometimes I just need to look elsewhere.

On the home front, my breakfasts have been changing a little. This is why I haven't spoke much about them recently. I have been flip-flopping back and forth with the berries, organic granola and yogurt with a splash of flax oil over top and just plain organic sprouted grain toast with a dollop of natural peanut butter and a slight schmear of Nutella for flavour on it. I do this as peanut butter isn't as hard on you as you think, but can be quite good for you (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=101). It's like anything else: moderation, my friends. Take it easy and your body will thank you for it.

Last night for supper, I made my version of Pasta Al Fresco. The cherry tomatoes we picked were finally ready to eat, so it was best to use them ASAP. This is a great, fresh tasting dish. I could eat it any time of the year.

Pasta Al Fresco

20 Cherry tomatoes
1 Shallot
4 Large basil leaves
1 Sprig of thyme
1 Small handful Italian or curly leafed parsley, cut off the stems
400 g (14-15 Oz's) Linguini
1/4 Ball of fresh mozzarella (if desired)
2 Oz's Good EVOO
Sea salt
Fresh Ground pepper


Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze each half into a large bowl to serve the pasta in. This helps create a sauce.


Mince the shallot and add it to the bowl. Chiffonade the basil. This is done by rolling up the leaves into a tight little bunch and slicing them into tiny strips. Do this carefully as to not bruise the leaves. "Chiffon" is French for "rag" referring to the fabric-like strips that result from this technique. Add the basil to the bowl.


Pull the leaves from the thyme and add them to the parsley leaves. Finely chop it all up and add to the bowl. I thought I was done with this part of the recipe when Mrs. Urban Eater asked me to add some of the fresh mozzarella which was in the fridge. You don't have to use this if you want to keep the fat content down, but it adds a nice texture and flavour to the dish. I used about 1/4 of the average large sized ball. I take mine out of the brine after I bring it home. This makes it a little drier and easier to use when cooking with it. Add salt, pepper and the EVOO. Mix everything so it can blend the flavours together. If you do this before you boil the pasta, it will give the dish time to come together, get "married" so to speak.

Boil your pasta in salted water until al dente and add to the bowl. Al dente means it is almost cooked, just beyond the slightly crunchy stage, but not to the soft stage. Always remember pasta keeps cooking after you remove it from the water. By the time you are ready to eat, it will be in it's perfect state. Mix in the pasta with the sauce and serve. Serves 2.


This is a great dish to have as often as you wish. You should use a thicker pasta such as linguini because it has a very slight sauce. Spaghetti wouldn't do it justice as it is too thin. I like whole wheat pasta, but I don't believe there is any whole wheat linguini out there, that I can find anyways. Besides, if you are a true pasta lover and only wish to use regular pasta, this is a great dish for you. The flavour of the pasta comes out and the sauce compliments it very well.

For dessert, we just had figs baked with Gorgonzola melted on top and a little aged balsamic vinegar on top. Nice way to end the weekend.


Little O's Menu

O has been eating more as of late. We are trying to add a couple more pounds to her little frame. She is in the 90th percentile for height but only just below the 50th for weight. This is ok with us as she seems healthy and happy. We will not let her become obese at any point, but she still needs a little fat on her. We aren't worried as we feed her when she wants to eat, but it's the brain development we want just as much as her physical development. So, this week we are going to re-introduce fish to her. She has tried halibut in the past, but we think she pulled back some due to the texture. We are going to start with wild Alaskan salmon. I cook this many different ways as I love it and so does the wife. I will always choose wild salmon over farmed, but will eat farmed once in a while if there are no other choices. We have an abundance of wild fish here in Calgary as we are only an hours flight away from Vancouver. We made the decision to start her on fish awhile ago, so now it's time to let her eat as much Omega 3 fatty acids as she can take. Omega 3's are extremely important in a lot of areas, especially brain function and formation (http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm).

I will be putting the recipes on here later in the week. Poached salmon in orange juice with asparagus and garlic, baked salmon with maple syrup vinaigrette.... Yum! The list goes on and on.

Quote of the day:

"One should eat to live, not live to eat."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist and philosopher.
Until next time, good eating everyone.
Mark

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