sharing (Italian) food to enjoy life

Archive for November, 2009

Auberge du Pommier, Cape Breton Island, and Bridge (the game, really)

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 30, 2009

My friends have organized a bridge night as an excuse for eight of us to get together once a month and eat, drink and play. We are learning to play, we already know how to eat and enjoy.  Last Friday we started with an absolutely amazing mushroom truffle soup, courtesy of Auberge du Pommier. 

As far as I captured it, the story goes like this.  Jay, the chef of Auberge, was one of the sous chef’s for Queen Elizabeth and learned this recipe.  He has since improved it, now making it one of the signature dishes at Auberge. Jay is my friend Ron’s cousin who requested the recipe after they tasted it at the restaurant last week. Darcy, Ron’s wife cooked it and the rest of us ate it.  It was spectacular, and she reports it is even better at the restaurant, I will re-visit Auberge to find out.  On a side note, Darcy did not have the blender lid on tightly and the soup is challenging to clean off of walls, carpet, floor, counter …


Our hosts are from Cape Breton Island, perhaps not renowned as the culinary capital of the world, using a cookbook from home, cooked a fancy stuffed chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto.  While I have posted that the Italian way is not to cook the prosciutto, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good, this was excellent and fully enjoyed by all.

As to the bridge, it was after the food, I suspect that is why it was enjoyed as well.


Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Master Chef from the Canadian Institute of Culinary Arts & Science

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 26, 2009

Humber College has the largest cooking school in Canada. My company has a relationship with them that lets me visit and enjoy; the facilities and professors are outstanding.  Anyway… I have a program for which master chef Leonhard Lechner is developing some simple serving ideas and recipes for me – I get to sit in the restaurant and he serves me 10-15 amazing things, one after another. 

One of his ideas I have to share right away as we approach the holiday season.

12 Slices Pancetta (thin sliced)
2 Cups Romaine lettuces
½ Cup Caesar dressing
¼ Cup Parmesan cheese (fresh shredded)
    Herb-garlic croutons
  1.  Turn small muffin tin upside-down and apply one thin slice of pancetta on top of it.
  2. Bake in oven at approximately 350 /375F till crispy.
  3. Remove the crispy pancetta cups from the cups and stuff them with Caesar salad and garnish.

Amazingly for a master chef, Leo made one huge mistake on this simple idea – 12 won’t be nearly enough!

Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Why do I love “the Mighty Espresso”?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 24, 2009

I have come to take my morning pleasure for granted, even though I have been drinking coffee for only a short time.   I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit the Lavazza training centre in Torino, Italy.  Lavazza is the leading coffee in Italy and the leading espresso around the world.

I usually have an espresso or latte to start my day.  Very occasionally I have a brewed drip coffee and each time wonder why so massively different than my usual. As a snob I’ll say the quality of the coffee and style of roasting of Lavazza is better, and it probably is.  At the training centre I had an espresso and brewed coffee made from the same beans, still there is a huge difference, including the caffeine.

Espresso, and all espresso based drinks – cappuccino, latte …, are made with very high pressure and short contact time with finely ground coffee.  Brewed coffee is made at a normal pressure with a long contact between the water and a coarser grind of coffee, about 5 minutes versus 25 seconds. The results:

  • Espresso has a much more aroma, body and a thin foamy “crema” that the pressure extracts.
  • The brewed coffee has less coffee flavour extracted.  The long contact actually extracts three times more caffeine than an espresso.

I received an aerosol vanilla mousse from the folks at the training centre and had some fun at our last dinner party.  I filled one side of the cup with the mousse and poured the espresso down the other side for a coffee and dessert combination.  (This picture was actually at the training centre, my creation didn’t look quite as perfect.)

As the chefs say, make sure you serve a good coffee; a bad coffee can ruin a great meal.

Posted in What is it? | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Andrea Bargnani influence?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 19, 2009

My daughter has an away basketball tournament this weekend, that means the parents are looking for an upgrade on pizza and have asked me for a reprise on the last tournament: mortadella and capocollo panini; prosciutto wrapped breadsticks; and hot and mild cacciatore.  Last time I expected the kids to focus on the sandwiches and leave the prosciutto and cacciatore for the parents, boy was I wrong!  It could be the Italian influence of Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors, but I think kids today have been exposed to many more foods and appreciate a more sophisticated taste at a younger age.

I am happy to put the spread on because it really is very easy. There might be a couple things on the planet that taste better than cacciatore, but not with so little prep time.  When time is of the essence, all you need is a mild and a hot cacciatore.  Slice on a diagonal, lay out artistically and you are done.  Honestly, people will tell you these are amazing.  I like to slice the hot a little thinner to so I can get people to try it.  I read the other day that chili peppers are the fastest growing spice in the world; people are eating more spicy things and spicier things.

With just a little more time I go with prosciutto wrapped around a bread stick. Cut a slice in half lengthwise and wrap down half the breadstick.  My personal favourite is mortadella on the breadstick, but last time I learned it can only be done just before serving or the breadstick goes soggy.  Sometimes I drape the mortadella, put the breadsticks in a glass and let people wrap their own.

For Panini I prefer the Italian way, bread and deli meat; nothing else to dilute the taste.

Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The oh so rare Italian Night

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 16, 2009

Enjoying Appetizers

For whatever reason, Italian is almost always an accent in our house, not the central theme when we entertain.  Saturday my wife was making her béchamel sauce lasagna and I decided to extend to a full Italian night.  A stray copy of Canadian Living provided some great new bruschetta ideas and some old classics made the appetizers a huge hit. (Make no mistake the lasagna was great too, I just didn’t prepare it.) We complimented the meal with a Pinot Grigio, a Chianti, tartufo and an experimental espresso and vanilla cream to finish the night off.

Nov'09 016I love appetizers as they start the night off with energy.  Variety provides something to share and talk about.  Prosciutto wrapped around the breadstick was the biggest surprise to my friend, who has tried almost everything. 



The appetizers started with brushing a sliced baguette with olive oil and toasting for a few minutes as the base for bruschetta. Assembly was successfully downloaded to the kids:

  • Spread a little brie and top with cooked asparagus, (cook to al dente, plunge in ice water to stop the cooking and dry).  Make sure the brie is at room temperature – the rule for all cheeses and deli meats to enjoy the full flavour.
  • Sauté fine chopped mushrooms in olive oil, you can include some fine red onion as well. Pile on the toast and drizzle a sweet balsamic vinegar glaze over the top – and don’t be shy.
  • Lay out the thinly sliced prosciutto and wrap around 6-7 spears of the cooked asparagus.  Cut into pieces in a sushi-style.  This is a straight copy from a friend; she also puts some arugula inside.
  • Fold some Genoa salami into flowers and hold together with a toothpick.
  • Slice some Savello di Roma and Calabrese cheeses.  The Calabrese is a Crotenese that has been coated in chili peppers. These are imported from Italy and were purchased at Grande Cheese.
  • The last appetizer was courtesy of the humble breadstick. I’m not talking about the fat chalky things; I am talking about the imported Italian ones, thin and dense with lots of snap.  My kids eat a box a week, plain or wrapped with prosciutto. Lay the prosciutto out lengthwise and roll the prosciutto around the breadstick.  

Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cooking with my kids

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 13, 2009

I am blessed with two girls that have a great, although inconsistent, love for cooking.  I still remember my then nine year old daughter telling me to stay on my side of the kitchen while she pan-fried our new shrimp and scallop cake recipe.  She had just spent an hour with me prepping, and had certainly earned the right to finish things off.  Of course she did fine, despite my nervousness, and managed to steal my glory. (My wife often tells me I am only a glory chef, “you cook only when there are people to praise the result”.  Of course I answer they are also there to criticize, something I deserve often enough.)

pros on baguetteMy youngest daughter and I decided to share a mini-grilled prosciutto Panini recipe last Christmas day.  Two things happened.  We didn’t make nearly enough and my daughter developed a Saturday ritual that goes something like “Dad, can you please pick me up some prosciutto?  … and some bocconcini cheese, fresh basil and a baguette”.  At least sometimes she makes a few for me.  We have an open kitchen, I love making these while people are crowded around – cooking, eating, drinking, talking all at the same time.  Here how my daughter does it:

  • Slice the baguette, fill with: prosciutto loosely folded on itself, thinly sliced fresh bocconcini, washed fresh basil.
  • She uses mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside, I can’t remember why.
  • Fry at a high heat for a short time.  You want the bread crispy, but the prosciutto and bocconcini only warmed.
  • Enjoy
  • My friend Joseph prefers with arugula instead of basil and open-faced without the grilling and a drizzle of olive oil

This was originally developed by a professional chef at work.  There is actually a short video that shows him making it at http://www.grangustoitaliano.com/en/recipes.asp?recipe=1&video=3

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

All hail the perfect wine and cheese pairing

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 12, 2009

Sometimes “my job” can simply get no better!  Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to learn intermediate wine tasting and to apply it to some of our imported Italian cheeses with Ramesh Srinivasan.  Ramesh is a professor at Humber College where he teaches wine to the chefs and restaurateurs of tomorrow.  His knowledge, passion and pleasure in teaching wine have no bounds.  My pleasure in learning was shared by his pleasure in teaching.

Together we tasted and tested the cheeses and wines, applying the matching principles he taught.  The overall rule is to match the prominent flavour of the food to the prominent flavour of the wine, and specifically:wine and cheese

  1. Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine. 
  2. Salty food requires acidity and sometimes residual sugar.
  3. Higher fat requires acidity.
  4. Higher protein requires higher tannin.
  5. Spicy food, does not like tannin or oak, it does need acidity and sugar.
  6. Sweet food needs sweeter wine.
  7. Ramesh was absolutely clear that this last rule never be broken.  If you like a pairing, then enjoy it.  Everyone’s tastes and preferences are different, there are no absolutes.

The big surprise for me was that many, maybe even most; cheeses are better paired with white wines than red wines.  Really, why is this?  Here is my attempt to explain what is best experienced by trial and error with friends:  except for the aged cheeses, the texture of most cheeses is soft to semi-hard, which generally means a lighter body wine best suits; and the salt and fat of cheese likes the acidity to cut and compliment those flavours.  While there is acidity in all wine, it is higher in white wines.

Here is a couple of the pairing we agreed on:

Testadura is a tangy, salty goat cheese that has semi-soft texture with a bit of graininess.  The best match was an off-dry Riesling.

Crotenese is a powerful, tangy and pungent sheep’s milk cheese with a semi-hard texture.  It paired well with Chianti and even better with a Chenin Blanc.

Asiago, at least a real one imported from Italy, is a hard, aged cheese.  It was beautiful with Chianti and even better with a Zinfandel.

Baiata is a beautiful semi-soft cheese for Friuli, north of Venice.  It has an intense tangy flavour; it is creamy with a bit of mushroom earthiness that is perfect with the youngness of a Beaujoulais.

We didn’t try Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is well known that they love the biggest, heartiest red wines such as Barolo, Barberesco and Brunello.  I look forward to those for next time.

Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A few rules to enjoy travel in Italy

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 6, 2009

low res parmaI’m sure no expert, but nine cities in 10 days over 1700 kilometers does teach you a few things:

  1. Beware the GPS, you can easily lose signal.
  2. Eat the food of the region you are in, match with the wine of the region.
  3. For a better espresso, choose bars over restaurants.
  4. Don’t ask hotels for restaurant recommendations.
  5. Try new things, some taste good – chicken livers and culatello; and some don’t – the paste after the first pressing of olives.
  6. If you can pull it off, travel with someone who speaks Italian, you will learn more.
  7. Pre-plan your wrinkle strategy, there are no irons in the rooms
  8. Beware the GPS, sometime it claims you are driving though a field.

Posted in Out and about | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where are all the cows?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 6, 2009

low res cowI am just finishing up a week and a half across northern Italy.  Despite some of the best and most famous cheeses in the world there are no cows to be seen – until today.  It turns out the cows are kept inside to control the feed and to allow milking once or even twice a day.  While the feed is a mixture of grass and grain, the grass is grown in the region of the cheese, at least for parmigiano reggiano.

I was lucky enough to visit one of the 400 Parmigiano Reggiano producers and the largest producer of grana padana.  Why does it taste so good?  It takes 1100 litres of milk to make two 38kg wheels, that’s about 16kgs of milk per kg of cheese! It is aged for 16 to 24 months and  it uses milk fresh everyday!  The grana is made with skim milk so doesn’t need to age as long as the parmigiano which uses a mixture of skim and whole milk. I prefer the grana padano most for eating and the parmigiano reggiano for grating.

Posted in What is it? | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Italy, one of my best, but not always the best

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 2, 2009

Just before I left for Italy I was pondering the best food experiences of my life, it seemed appropriate as I hoped to have some new ones.  I still recall a plate of gnochi, with my wife, in a non-descript restaurant halfway up the hill in Positano.  We were in heaven, it was so light and delicate with tomato sauce that forgot about more flavour than North America had ever seen.  While already relaxed the quality and unexpectedness of the meal was the start of one of our favourite days.

This week traveling through Italy at breakneck speed on business I thought every meal would be the highlight of the day.  Alas, it has been hit and miss.  A couple great meals, with great company – tried and loved truffles for the first time. A couple meals that could have been served in Omaha, Nebraska – not that I have been there, but do imagine.  One treat has been the Coppa, served before a couple meals for free – it was better than the meal.  Coppa is similar to prosciutto, only made from the butt or front shoulder.  It is a little fattier and all flavour.  When you get the chance, please give it a try.

Posted in Enjoy and share | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »