Weekend in Seattle

I was lucky enough to get to visit Seattle recently. While this is always a fun city to visit, it was even better because I saw my cousin, met his girlfriend, as well as spending the weekend with my sister and her husband! We had a great time together.

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Emily and I started off by wandering in Pikes Place Market where we spotted this hilarious sign. funny sign 

After exploring some art, book, and trinket stores, we of course gravitated to the flower and food section of the market. 

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The flowers there are always amazing, and it was definitely tulip season! Next we found a pasta stand with amazing shapes and flavors (chocolate pasta, anyone?). pasta

 pasta in bins

And of course there were Brussels sprouts, aka “little green balls of death!” brussels sprouts

I love how all the tomatoes and carrots look together. So pretty! tomatoes  

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That night, we met up with Tim for a yummy Ethiopian dinner at  Queen Sheba. We had lots of fun catching up over dinner and the frozen custard that followed.

Saturday morning started off with brunch at Julia’s, where we got to meet Rachel. It was really fun chatting with her and getting to know her a little bit! After brunch we wandered to the Seattle Public Library, which is an amazing building. seattle public library

 seattle public library
Next, we took a ferry over to Bainbridge Island. On the ferry we got this great picture of the cousins! 

There were tons of great views from the ferry, and we even managed to avoid most of the rain once we were on the island. seattle waterfront

We had dinner that night at a fun Mexican restaurant, following it up with ice cream. The ice cream was delicious but I was especially impressed by the massive T-Rex painting on the wall. Of course, T-Rex is my favorite dinosaur! (You know you have a favorite dinosaur!) 

 My visit wrapped up Sunday morning with a visit to an amazing overlook in Queen Anne, and breakfast and coffee at a little coffee shop. 

 

It was so much fun to see Tim, Rachel, Emily, and Rob, and I think we all had a great time together!

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Spicy Carrot Ginger Soup

I’m not normally one to ask for recipes at a restaurant, but when we were in Estes Park over Thanksgiving, I had an amazing Carrot Chile Soup at Ed’s Cantina.

Maybe it had something to do with the cold I was recovering from, but the soup was exactly what I needed that day for lunch. Although I didn’t get the exact recipe, I got enough about the ingredients to come up with my own version.

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I started off by sautéing onions and ginger in olive oil, and then adding a ton of chopped carrots (this may be the most carrots I’ve ever used in a single dish). I’m sure the version I had in Estes Park didn’t have ginger, but I thought it would work well with the spiciness and creaminess of the soup.

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Next I added a variety of chopped peppers. I like things spicy, so I used poblano, Serrano, and bell peppers.

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After adding some veggie stock and allowing the soup to simmer for a little bit, I blended everything together with my immersion blended (one of my favorite kitchen gadgets), added a little vegan cream, and it was ready to go.

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This soup is definitely getting added to the rotation!

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Spicy Carrot Ginger Soup
Inspired by the Carrot Chile soup at Ed’s Cantina in Estes Park

2 small onions, diced
1.5″ piece of ginger, peeled and minced
7 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
2 poblano peppers, diced
4 Serrano peppers, minced
1 quart veggie stock
6 ounces almond milk or vegan “cream”
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the onions and ginger to the pot along with 1/2 tsp salt. Saute until the onions are softened and starting to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots and cover to cook until they are somewhat soft, being sure to stir them every 5-6 minutes so they don’t burn or stick.

Next, add all of the diced peppers. Cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the veggie broth, making sure all the veggies are covered. Put the lid on the pot and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes. 

Once all the veggies are cooked, reduce the heat to medium-low and purée the soup using an immersion blender. I decided to not purée until it was perfectly smooth so that it had a little bit of texture. Add the milk or cream and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

You can top the soup with tortilla strips and thin slices of fresh red onions, or treat it as you would a tomato soup and serve with a grilled cheddar cheese (vegan or otherwise!) sandwich.

Tour and Dinner in San Gimignano

Would you believe that after our amazing cooking class, there was more planned for that same day? After the cooking class, some of us took naps, while others decided to go for a walk. I got to enjoy wandering around the villa property with my sister Emily (hermana!).

We met Gina Stipo to spend the evening in San Gimignano. First we went to San Gimignano 1300, an amazing museum that included a reproduction of the town from the 1300’s. We learned all about the history of the town, and especially its towers.

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The town originally had 72 towers, which were built as symbols of familial power. Many of the towers were torn down over the years, but there are still 13 standing.

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After the museum, we wandered around the town some, visiting piazzas and climbing to the top of a hill to see a view of the entire town and the surrounding landscape. Beautiful!

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Before heading to dinner, we enjoyed an apertivo in the Piazza della Cisterna. We tried drinks recommended by Gina, including Spritz (prosecco and Campari) and various little snacks. The Italians never have drinks without some type of food.

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After enjoying our apertivo, we headed to an amazing dinner in a small restaurant in San Gimignano. My meal started with stracciatella, which ended up being a shared appetizer due to its size! It was delicious.

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Next, both Jon and I enjoyed ribolitta, a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup. Gina taught us how to top it with slivers of fresh onion and flavorful olive oil. Although it is incredible to think that we would have room for anything after all the food from the day, we all managed to save room for at least a little bit of world famous gelato from Gelateria Dondoli.

I love how the little bins of gelato are decorated with bits of their flavoring. Much more attractive than plastic bins of ice cream like you see in the US!

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With all the amazing food and activities, it was hard to believe that this was just our first full day in Tuscany! More to come from our Italian adventure. 🙂

Italian Wine Arrives!

Woohoo! The wine that we ordered on our Italian adventure has arrived. That means two things: really good wine is in our loft (probably the best that has been in our home, ever), and I am seriously behind on documenting our adventures in Italy!

The wine arrived in a box that didn’t look quite big enough to hold 6 bottles. The cats “helped” with unpacking, of course!

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More details to come on our amazing winery visit to Poggio Rubino, but we ordered some of their Rosso di Montalcino.

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It is a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or “controlled designation of origin” wine, which basically means that where it comes from and how it is produced meets certain criteria.

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I am sure we will be enjoying some of this wine soon, but we also will be saving some to age and enjoy at some point in the future!

Cooking Class in Tuscany

After spending another day in Rome and doing some additional sight-seeing, including visiting the Colosseum and Imperial Forum, it was off to Tuscany to meet up with my family.
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We had a fun dinner the first night prepared by Gina Stipo, our culinary host for the week, that included salad with fennel fronds, farro, yummy cheese, and of course wine. The next morning after admiring the beautiful views from the villa, it was off to our Ecco La Cucina cooking class!

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The menu was truly a feast, including cheese soufflé on a pear salad, freshly made pasta with artichokes, roasted rabbit, asparagus, and biscotti. Yum!

We started off by preparing the rabbit, which was roasted with oil-cured olives, chunks of orange, sage, rosemary, and white wine. Getting it ready for roasting was as easy as putting the rabbit in a roasting pan, burying all the flavorings under it, pouring white wine over it all, and then sticking it in the oven. I think there might have been some liberal doses of olive oil, as well.

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Like any good meal, this one started by making dessert early on. Gina had us prepare two flavors of biscotti: orange almond, and orange anise seed. I’ve made orange almond before, but the orange anise seed was amazing– of course, I am quite fond of licorice-flavored food!

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We also added sugar, orange zest, baking powder (which is vanilla-scented in Tuscany!), and almonds for the first batch. The second batch used the same ingredients, except we swapped out anise seeds for the almonds.

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Once the dough was formed, most of us got a chance to roll out a log of biscotti. The biscotti then went into the oven for the first baking.

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Next, we processed all of the artichokes for the pasta sauce – no canned artichokes here! Before this, the only artichokes I had ever tried to prepare were to be steamed and the leaves eaten with butter. It was surprisingly easy to peel off the tough outer leaves, clean the inside, and quarter the hearts for the sauce. Of course, it might have been slightly easier with Gina demonstrating the proper technique and results!

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One of the really fun things about the class was how Gina got everyone involved in the preparation, not just the practiced cooks. Jon even proved his fitness as a sous chef with his expert garlic chopping. 🙂

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After the artichokes were prepared and the garlic was chopped, we started a simple sauce for the pasta with butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and the artichoke hearts. Mom was the expert lemon squeezer.

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Next it was on to the really fun part of the class–making homemade pasta to go with the artichoke sauce! We mixed together flour and eggs, eventually forming a dough. Gina showed us how to make a well in the flour and use our fingers to start the dough.

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After everyone took turns kneading the pasta dough, it was time to roll it out. I have a pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer, and always thought using a hand roller would be really difficult and require you to grow an extra limb to manage it and the pasta. That was not the case, though it helped that there were lots of people to maneuver the dough once it got really long.

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Once the dough was rolled out to the right thickness, it was on to the chitarra to cut the spaghetti. This part was really fun: you sprinkled semolina onto the chitarra, placed a piece of dough on it, and then used a rolling pin to cut the noodles using the wires of the chitarra. In a lot of ways, this part was easier than using my pasta attachments. The spaghetti just falls neatly under the wires, so you don’t have to worry about catching all the pieces (and stepping on the pieces that inevitably fall on the floor).

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Pretty little piles of spaghetti!
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Earlier in the class we had prepared cheese flans to go on top of a pear salad. While the pasta was being cut, the flans came out of the oven and were placed on the salad for a delicious starter.

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We headed out to a beautiful covered terrace to start our meal with the cheese flans.

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After whetting our appetites, it was back to the kitchen to finish the pasta. Once the pasta was cooked it went into the pan with the artichoke sauce and a little of the cooking water to thicken the sauce.

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A little cheese was mixed in, then it was back to the terrace to eat pasta. Yeah!

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While we were enjoying the pasta, the rabbit miraculously made its way to the table along with some asparagus. Even though none of the rabbit made it to my plate, it looked delicious!

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After all this food, it was hard to imagine there was still dessert. The biscotti was “well-guarded” (and maybe adequately sampled!) so there was plenty left for us to enjoy.

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The biscotti was served with Vin Santo and fresh strawberries. It was a perfect end to the meal and a fun and informative cooking class!

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Stay tuned for more posts from our Italian adventure! 🙂

Trastevere food tour

I was lucky enough to get to go on a trip to Italy recently, and the best description is Wow! When friends have asked what was my favorite part, I literally can’t answer the question. As you can imagine, food was a major component of the trip, highlighted by a “culinary adventure” in Tuscany. So, Italian food and all things Italy will be occupying my blog for the next several weeks!

Jon and I started off in Rome, and what better way to get ourselves oriented than to take a walking food tour. After suspending our veganness for the trip, we signed up for Twilight Trastevere through Eating Italy food tours and it was a great way to kick off the trip!

After landing in Rome that morning, walking several miles, and eating lightly, we were ready for our food tour. We decided to walk to the Tiber Island to meet up with our tour, walking past the Imperial Forum on the way. After meeting up with the group and getting a little background on Trastevere, we were off to Da Enzo Al 29, where we had prosecco accompanied by stracciatella and melon (and prosciutto for the meat eaters). The cheese was drizzled with olive oil, and some of the best cheese either of us have ever tasted. 20130609-203715.jpg

After savoring this decadence, we were off to the next stop – Spirito di Vino – a restaurant/wine cellar in a building that was the oldest synagogue still standing…obviously it was no longer in that function! We sampled some amazing red wine, along with some more cheese dishes. Would you believe that this shot is ~20 feet below current street level, but was street level 2000 years ago?!? Amazing. 20130609-204831.jpg

Next we were on to Innocenti, an absolutely amazing bakery – Yelp and Tripadvisor agree!20130609-205524.jpg

After ogling the cookie display from the window and admiring the ancient industrial oven…
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Next up was Antica Caciara where we sampled some amazing cheese. I also ogled some cheese to take home, but decided against it.
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Massive wheels of Pecorino Romano…they would fit nicely in my luggage!20130609-212244.jpg

Next we were off to La Renella. First we got to observe the amazing kitchen and bread oven.20130609-212657.jpg

The bread ovens were huge! They seriously went back at least 10 loaves of bread, and required massive bread paddles with long handles to pull freshly-baked bread out of the oven.20130609-212901.jpg

After seeing the kitchen, we got to sample some of the amazing pizza. As a former cheese addict, I always thought pizza had to have lots of cheese on it. This pizza, however, was a revelation. With a simple crust and excellent tomato sauce, both Jon and I thought it was some of the best pizza we have ever had.20130609-214532.jpg

You’d think we would be done at this point? So did we, but we were not. We went to Ristorante La Scala for some amazing pasta – Ravioli and mushroom fettuccine alfredo.
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Before our last food stop of the evening, we went to Farmacia Maria Della Scala. Closed in the 1960’s, this was an amazing glimpse into the past. We sniffed viper paste (literally made up of ground vipers and 40+ other ingredients), admired the old ingredients, and peered at the paintings of famous historical patrons. We weren’t able to take photos inside the Farmacia, so I can only share the exterior sign. It is most definitely worth a visit, if you happen to be wandering around in Trastevere.

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Finally, we wrapped up the tour with an amazing gelateria. Jon made better flavor choices than I did, but it was very interesting to learn the identifying characteristics of “real” gelato: the pistachio should be earthy green, not bright green; the mint should be white-ish and not bright green; and gelato that is mounded up way over the containers is not heavy enough to be real. This education probably saved us a few gelato calories in our wanderings through Italy!

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After the tour was wrapped up, Jon and I decided to walk back to our hostel. Although we walk all the time at night at home, we definitely don’t wander past 2000 year old ruins illuminated by moonlight!

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