Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Now We're Cookin': Palazzo Tour d'Eau

Yup...still in Italy, and now we're actually cooking...woo hoo! I've spent a few days in Rome with two of my wonderful friends, Sharon & Kerry:

And now we've finally moved on to the reason for the trip...cooking! We're in Caruncchio, Abruzzo (Italy), and as I may have mentioned yesterday, we're on the top of a mountain...in a old castle-ish villa, Palazzo Tour d'Eau. It's crazy around here. All of the towns are perched on the top of the mountains, my guess is to more easily defend themselves during an attack. I actually think it's to make hysterical tourists more hysterical. Whatever. ;) What I think I'm actually getting though, is a real taste of Italy and the culture, albeit in a slightly sanitized American-friendly way. This isn't touristy Tuscany -- this is the real Italian country-side. It's very, very...quiet.

The lovely Angela, traveling by herself for the very first time is sweet, funny, and knows how to taste wine while videotaping the instructor!
After a wonderful dinner Sunday evening, totally prepared for us by the terrific staff here, we got to move on today and get the ball rolling. We started the day the way anyone would start, tasting wine! We hit the Montepulciano, both cheap and not, in an effort to learn more about how to properly taste wine and to give the grape juice of the region a go. Our host, Massimo, knows a thing or two (or three or four...) about wine. It's always fascinating to listen to someone who really knows his stuff. The class went for some time, and ended with a "peasant" lunch. I must be a peasant, because it was delicious. Do the words "anchovy toast" make you salivate? Of course not! But it was indeed tasty, though I feel like every time I take a breath a giant fish holding a head of garlic is making an appearance. Good thing the family is thousands of miles away!

I try to steer clear of the typical food shots that are so pervasive and, uh, annoying, but I believe that a trip that required my very first passport breaks the rules a wee bit. Don't you? Here's lunch, missing the veggie frittata (yum) and a veggie torte in pastry (also yum):

Anchovy Toast -- Sounds funky, tastes yummy



Doesn't that look like a real food pic??   

Lunch dessert - don't know the name, but it was very satisfying with homemade amaretti cookie crumbled over whipped cream...duh...it was awesome!

So with full belly and droopy eyes, I dragged myself up to the room, snuggled under the covers, and then proceeded to check emails and do work until it was time for our first real class. I'd like to be better at this whole napping thing, especially from a castle in Italy, but there's always so much to do. Like get ready to cook...finally!

This is Cheryl and Dino, our instructors for the week in the gorgeous basement kitchen of the Palazzo Tour d'Eau

 We tumbled into the basement kitchen, which doesn't make it seem nearly as fab as it really is. With high ceilings, gorgeous handmade mosaics, and a wood-fired pizza oven, this place is a rustic cook's dream come true. They use induction burners instead of gas due to local regulations, but since Cheryl & Dino were running that end of things, it didn't matter a lick to me. Over the course of the evening, we made stuffed artichokes (if you don't know about my fondness for artichokes, you may want to check here), arugula-prosciutto wraps, and tiramisu, which truthfully, I thought was one of those made-up American/Italian dishes. Take a look:
Dino is working through dealing with a group of hungry Americans...I keed, I keed!
The cooking was pretty light for us. Trimming a few artichokes, crumbling some bread, pulling together the filling. Nice and easy, and a gentle intro to the kitchen and working together.
Not the sexiest shot, but look at that space!

Kitchen Studio Represent!

Just one example of the fab mosaics in the kitchen. This actually takes up the entire wall.

Fab fresh artichokes

Now they're stuffed and ready to cook, stove top

Freshly picked arugula, with shaved Parm inside, wrapped in prosciutto, then drizzled with a quick lemon/olive oil vinaigrette and served with oil-cured olives and grissini
Tiramisu does not suck.

So there's the day. Looks like Tuesday starts with a pasta-making class, then caps the day with a truffle hunt (the Abruzzo region is known for truffles and saffron -- I had no idea) and a trip to the truffle-maker's home for a tasting. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Now That's Italian!

As I sit in a castle on the very tippy top of a mountain in Italy, I think to myself, Holy cow! I'm sitting in a castle on the top of a mountain in Italy!!!! Check it out -- here are the views from my room:

Had you asked me just a few months ago if this was part of my plan, I would have, of course, sighed and said something about maybe someday (minus the top of the mountain part -- I'm absolutely terrified of driving on or up mountains and truth be told, I'm not so sure about how I'm going to get up and down without complete panic), then gone back to my everyday life at home and The Kitchen Studio.

Thanks to my friend Sharon, I'm on a cooking vacation with a week full of cooking-related activities ahead of me. A deal on Groupon and a bit of coordinating with the travel company, Epitourean (who really should have told me about the darn mountains when I asked), and here I am. The welcome dinner last night was lovely, featuring truffles and wild boar, as was the homemade limoncello to cap the evening.

There are 20 in the group, with 16 women and 4 men, some in for the adventure and some, obviously, for the food. Today the plan was to go truffle hunting, but the weather is iffy and we may lead with a wine tasting class instead, though I am a bit dubious of tasting wine on a Monday morning. It feels so decadent, doesn't it?

I"m curious to see what the week brings, with the people and the food and the host and staff (who all seem terrific btw). Personally, I'm hoping for inspiration and education, and a bit of time to write and plan. Our first cooking class is this afternoon and I'm curious to see how the instructor handles a group of 20 in the kitchen at one time for a hands-on class. 

If you're interested, I'll keep you posted this week with pics and blog updates, and any epiphanies that come my way (I'm hoping they are plentiful and frequent).

One quick note -- we stopped at a rest stop along the way here from Rome. No cappuccino to go -- they all come in porcelain cups and you stand at the coffee bar to enjoy. No time for that, which was a complete bummer, but I did grab salami & Parmesan in to-go packs...it was awesome and pricey (13 Euros!)! No fried nasty roadside food, but instead fresh salads and panini.
Add in the 4 shirtless gentlemen weightlifting and cooking on an oversize Bunsen burner in the parking lot, and the stop may have been the best part of the ride!

Stay tuned, and ciao!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today I Leave for Italy

I've always hated those braggarts who shout about every adventure, every trip. But today, I am one. Today I leave for a week of cooking classes in Italy and a few bonus days in Rome. Me. I'm leaving. Getting on a jet plane. Holy cow.

Not that we've had our requisite work meeting where I tell my more-capable-than-me staff how to work everything while I'm gone (I'm sure they'll do a better job than I usually do!), I'm finally excited. And nervous. And just a wee bit nauseous.

Some folks would consider me adventurous or brave, but really, I'm chicken-hearted to the bone. Sure, I moved to NYC immediately after college graduation not knowing a soul, not even my roommate, and making a measly $17k a year (it was a fun, but not prosperous time). Sure, I started my own business, and still have it going strong almost 8 years later, when folks in town actually laughed at me. Out loud. But I've never been a world traveler. Indeed, I just snagged my very first passport (here's a hint: go the the Middletown post office -- they're awesome there).

So when my friend and co-worker Sharon sent me a Groupon deal for a week of cooking classes in Italy, even I couldn't believe that I jumped on the deal. It didn't feel real, like it would actually happen. Then we booked the flights. Then we added on a few days for Rome because really, will I ever get back?

My husband John not only agreed to this grand Italian scheme, but encouraged me as well. The kids? They're both teens now, and pretty self-sufficient in the mornings. I know they'll be fine, as will the puggle, nuzzled under the blankets on my bed as a write.

But as I do the last minute laundry, and throw various and sundry items into plastic bags, and whip up a meal or two for when I'm gone, I wonder what I hope to get out of this trip.

Am I hoping for a fun trip with friends (my friend and other co-worker, Kerry, is also coming along) with food and wine? I am looking for real instruction form real Italians? Am I looking for time away from the family? A chance to see a place in person that I've only ever seen in movies and photos? To find my own thoughts in the mountains of Italy without the constant banging in my head of world and family and life?

Maybe I'm looking for all of the above. No one in my family is a world traveler. We kept things close to home when I was growing up, making the same trip to the same family cabin in the middle of no where (with no bathroom) for the same vacation...when we took one. An adventure was taking the highway to Gettysburg, just 30 minutes away, and driving through the battlefields, almost never being allowed to get out of the car to climb the rocks at Devil's Den or the monument at Little Roundtop, but instead listening to my dad wax on about his time there as a kid and all the fun he had.

When I met my husband, and he had a passport, I was amazed. He'd already been to London and was planning a trip to France with a friend. This just wasn't common in my circle and it seemed so...sophisticated.

So here I am, 20+ years later, getting ready to take off on my first real international adventure (I'm totally discounting the honeymoon to Aruba, where we went specifically because
I wouldn't need a passport and where every other person on the beach was from New York City too), and I'm taking it without the family. It feels weird.

I know that as much as I'd like to take more trips to more countries with more family members, this could be once in a lifetime. I'm a realist, and with two kids headed to college, one in just over a year, and a teacher's salary and a small business owner's salary, this could be it. For a long time, or even forever. But I sure hope not.

If I take a few good pics, I'll post them here, or maybe on my person or Kitchen Studio Face book pages if you're interested, and I'll do my best not to be cheesy, but no guarantees.

If you've been to Rome, or Carunchio, please let me know. I'd love to know where to go, what to see. When I'm not cooking of course. That said...ciao!