Monthly Archives: January 2012

Seafood Chowder

Ingredients:

4   lobster tails or 2 live lobsters, steamed

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, steamed, peeled and deveined

1 pound white fish fillets or imitation crabmeat, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cans chopped clams, drained

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, diced

½ c. chopped celery

2 c. frozen corn

2 c heavy cream

½ t. tarragon

1 t. salt

¼ t. pepper

Directions:

First, prepare seafood as directed.  Remove lobster meat from shells and cut into 2-inch pieces. In large sauce pan, combine potatoes, onion, celery, salt and ½ c. water.  Cover and cook 15 minutes or until tender.  Stir in corn, cream, tarragon, salt, and pepper.  Add seafood and heat through.  Serves 4-6.

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Bouillabaisse

We traditionally have lobster and Caesar salad for New Year’s Eve but I made bouillabaisse this year.  It was such a hit with family and friends that I will do it from now on. Saffron is the world’s  most expensive spice, but it makes all the difference in this recipe so don’t skip it.  Enjoy!

 Ingredients:

 4 lobster tails or 3 whole lobsters, steamed

2 dozen cherrystone clams in shells

1 dozen mussels in shells

1 pound white fish fillet (cod, haddock or halibut)

2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 ½ pounds large sea scallops

½ cup olive oil

1 cup onion, diced

½ cup celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 -1 lb 12 oz cans of diced tomatoes with juice

1 bay leaf

¼ t. saffron threads

1 ½ t salt

1 t pepper

2 quarts of store-bought fish or chicken stock

Directions:

Prepare seafood. Remove cooked lobster meat from shells and cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside.  Scrub shells of clams and mussels to remove any dirt. Cut fish fillet into 2-inch pieces and set aside. Peel and devein shrimp.  Rinse scallops. Sauté the onion, celery and garlic in olive oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add tomatoes, bay leaf, saffron and salt and pepper.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes or until some of the liquid is reduced to concentrate the flavor.  Add seafood, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until fish and scallops are opaque, shrimp is pink, and the mussels and clams are opened wide. Serve with crusty garlic toast, Caesar salad and a crisp white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Serves 6.

My First Day at Work

           The hotel where I would be working, Hotel Santa Caterina, was located along the road just before the center of Amalfi.  Amalfi is on the waterfront, but has no beach. The town of Amalfi used to rival Venice and Genoa as a substantial maritime republic and its maritime law, the Tavole Amalfitanae, was the ultimate authority in the Mediterranean for centuries. Amalfi was the home of Flavio Gioa, the inventor of the maritime compass. The main piazza is dominated by the Romanesque styled Duomo di Sant’Andrea, founded in the 9th century, the Piazza Duomo, and Museo della Carta, the 13th century paper museum. A tourist destination today, it features a cluster of cafes, souvenir and retail shops around a central piazza or square. 

           The piazza was bulk-headed with large, gray boulders and there was one long pier stretching out to meet ferries and the occasional cruise ship. Even though it was early when I arrived for my first day of work, people sat outside the cafés sipping their cappuccinos and eating croissants, delivery trucks were unloading their wares, kayakers were in the water playing basketball with a floating basket, and the ferry was boarding for Naples. I exited the SITA bus I had ridden from Positano and started the one-mile trek up the hill to the hotel. 

           The road was steep and passed through two tunnels cut into the rock. I stopped to catch my breath and watched a construction crew hollowing out the hillside to expand one of the tunnels. A man with a tan, weathered face led three donkeys down the road with panniers filled to the brim with heavy rocks. I watched as he unloaded them into a pile on the side of the road.  A small dump truck was parked nearby, which looked like it would take the rocks away later in the day. I wondered how many trips the workman made up the hill each day with his donkeys. It was hard enough walking up the steep road just once—without pulling three stubborn animals.

            Hotel Santa Caterina is curved to fit the road and clung to the hillside several stories down between the road and the sea. It was cream-colored stucco with dark green trim adorned with window boxes spilling with colorful flowers. A brass plaque to the left of the front door identified it as a “Five Star Hotel” and a “Member of the Small Leading Hotels of the World.” A valet in black pants and a gray long-sleeved jacket trimmed in burgundy opened the car door for an arriving guest. Another deftly removed luggage from the trunk and followed the guest into the front door. Red, yellow, silver, blue and white motor scooters were huddled by the employee entrance to the left of the main door. I was a little nervous as I entered the hotel and walked up the ramp to find the kitchen.

           The head chef, Domenico Cuomo, (we call him “Chef” and everyone else is called by their first names) welcomed me and told me that the laundry staff would wash and press my uniform for me. My Italian was sketchy, but we managed to understand each other. He had one of the girls who wash dishes show me where to take it. I noticed that there weren’t any men washing dishes either, although there was one man who was not a chef that furiously operated the espresso machine for the restaurant and staff throughout the day.

           He had one of the dishwashers, Conchetta, show me where the locker room was so I could change.  I had carried my chef’s uniform on a hanger that first day. Conchetta led me down three flights of stairs (Ugh! I’m going to have to walk back up) to the basement where she let me share her locker. The room was the size of a coat closet and I was sweaty from the walk uphill.  I started to wriggle my damp body into the freshly pressed uniform. Then I trudged up the stairs to start work.

           The hotel had two kitchens – the main one serves breakfast and dinner and the lower one, by the pool, serves lunch. The pastry chef, Roberto, spoke some English, so they decided to start me with him for the first couple of weeks and would gradually shift me to the savory side of the kitchen.  

           Roberto, greeted me as he dusted flour from his hands with a dish towel.  He was short and stocky with a graying crew cut and smiling brown eyes framed with glasses.

           

 “Good morning, Mar-cha.”  (The Italian pronunciation for “ci” is “ch.”)

            “Buon giorno,” I replied.

                       Roberto beckoned me over to a quieter corner of the room where a long marble table was surrounded by a large double oven, three small refrigerators, a sink, a rack of wire shelves holding baking pans, and a bank of flour and sugar bins. This was his domain as pastry chef.

            He handed me a paring knife and showed me how he wanted me to cut strawberries, pineapple, apples and oranges for a fruit salad. I washed my hands and started slicing the fruit into large glass bowls. Roberto laid out 210 small plates on the marble counter and began arranging the fruit. It took us most of the morning. I helped Roberto transfer the plates to a wire holding rack.

            Then Roberto opened a huge can to expose what looked like a large transparent green pear

            “Che cosa è? What is it?” I asked.

            “Cedro,” he replied. “It is the fruit of the cedar tree,” he replied. 

I didn’t even know that cedar trees had fruit, but later learned that this was citron, which is primarily candied and used in many desserts like fruitcake in the US.

            “Is very bitter when fresh, “he continued. “ It must be canned with zucchero (sugar) for 3 or 4 months before you can eat it.”

             We cut the fruit into strips, rolled them in sugar & dipped them in chocolate. We also made Cantucci di Firenze – like small biscotti that you are supposed to dip in Vin Santo liqueur after dinner. Biscotti means “twice baked” in Italian and that is exactly how these are made. Unlike savory cooking which you do basically by the seat-of-your-pants method, baking is a science with ingredients that have to be weighed and measured very precisely.

           When Roberto told me it was time for lunch. I washed my hands and followed him to the buffet where we helped ourselves to grilled chicken breasts, penne with a plain tomato sauce and oven roasted potatoes.  He led me out on to the porch and indicated that I sit down at an empty seat next to him.  I was the only woman among 12 men at the chef’s table and I felt a little self-conscious. I don’t think they’d ever had a woman chef at Hotel Santa Caterina before.

            “Buon appetito. Enjoy your meal,” Roberto said to me.

            “Altrettanto. Thank you, the same to you,” I replied and cut a piece of the grilled chicken breast.  The chefs were conversing in very rapid Italian and I could only understand a few words.  Then I heard Chef’s staccato reply but only caught the words “signora finite” in them.  I knew they were talking about me and Chef had told someone to wait until I was finished. I ate as quickly as I could and excused myself.  Perhaps someone was not pleased to be eating lunch with a woman?

            After lunch I helped Roberto make dinner rolls for the hotel. He showed me how to pinch off a portion of the dough and roll it on the counter top to make it round and firm. We had filled several sheet pans of rolls to be baked after I left that afternoon to return to Positano. I was exhausted!

Shrimp Gumbo

 Ingredients:

1 lb. fresh okra, sliced or 1-10 oz. package frozen sliced okra

2 T. olive oil

¼ c. butter

2 c. diced onion

2 green peppers, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ c. flour

1-1 lb. 12 oz. can tomatoes, cut up but not drained

2 c. chicken stock

2 c. water

2 bay leaves

¼ t. thyme

¼ t. Tabasco

½ t. Worcestershire

1 t. salt

2 lbs. large shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 c. long grain rice

Directions:

Heat olive oil and butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Saute okra, onion, green pepper and garlic until onion is translucent.  Sprinkle with flour and stir to make a paste.  Gradually stir in chicken stock and water. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, Tabasco, Worcestershire and salt.  Cover and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add rice to pot and continue to simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender.  Add shrimp and heat through.  Serves 8.

 

Curried Pumpkin Soup

A friend once told me that you were prepared for a snowstorm and winter in general in you had enough firewood and wine!  I would like to add soup to warm your body and soul as well.  Here is the first of two great soup recipes.

Ingredients:

2 T. butter

1 – 8oz pkg sliced fresh mushrooms

½ c. chopped onion

2 T flour

1 T curry powder

3 C chicken broth

2 C canned pumpkin

1  T honey

½ t salt

¼ t nutmeg

¼ t pepper

1 – 12 oz can evaporated milk

Directions:

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add mushrooms & onions and cook until tender, stirring often.  Stir in flour & curry powder.  Gradually add chicken broth and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Stir in pumpkin & next 4 ingredients.  Reduce heat & simmer 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  Stir in milk & heat through. Garnish with sour cream, chopped fresh chives or toasted coconut (toast coconut in low oven – about 325 degrees – for 5-10 mins) Makes 6-1 cup servings.

The Adventure Begins

 

In mid-May following completion of the spring semester, Craig drove me to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the departure to Rome. I don’t think he really believed I was going to go through with this until that morning. I knew he didn’t embrace the idea of my being away all summer, (remember, we were supposed to be spending time together?), but he hadn’t stopped me from going. I kept reminding myself that he was the one who suggested I follow my passion.

           The other students were there when we arrived. None of us really knew each other well and living together would be interesting—like a real life “Big Brother” episode.

           David, quiet, lean and dark-haired was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that said “Italian Lover” on the back. His mom, dad, and sister were there to see him off. Boisterous Ben, who looked more like a tall, blond teddy bear, was there with his parents. Brandi, blonde and beautiful with a big smile was there with her mom and her two young children, a boy about eight years old and a daughter about four years old. Kirsten, a stately, darker blonde arrived with her boyfriend. Everyone hugged good-bye and the head of HCAT had her assistant take pictures of us.

           Craig didn’t cook, except for the occasional hard boiled egg or baked potato in the microwave, but I had left him two giant pans of lasagna and had carefully labeled operating instructions on everything from the oven to the washer and dryer. I walked him through the military commissary and had pointed out the dry cleaners and the vet for the dogs. I assured him he would be fine without me and promised to e-mail. I reflected later that he was either going to really appreciate all I’d been doing or discover that he didn’t really need me. I hoped it was the former.

            We departed forNew York, and after a short layover at JFK, boarded the plane toRome. The flight was long, but we were filled with so much anticipation that we couldn’t sleep. Upon our arrival the following morning, we maneuvered through the immigration lines, retrieved our luggage to take through customs and began searching for a young man named Seth, who was to meet us. None of us knew what he looked like, but five Americans looking lost were easy for him to spot.  Short, well-tanned and easy-going, Seth sauntered up.

            “How was the trip?” he asked as he shook hands with each of us. “Is anyone hungry or thirsty? We can get something from the snack bar before we get on the van.”

            We each withdrew Euros from the ATM machine and selected something to take with us on the trip to Positano. Seth led us to the van which was parked curbside and helped us load our luggage. Originally fromAnnapolis, he worked for a global education company and had helped set up the internship program for HCAT.  He spoke fluent Italian and would be our contact and primary resource while we were inItaly.

            The southern edge of the Sorrento Peninsula south of Naples is called the costiera amalfitana, orAmalfiCoast, and is distinguished by the majestic Lattari Mountains (1400 m) that plunge to the sea.

           There are three islands just off the coast of Positano, Li Galli, which were supposedly the home of the Sirens in Homer’s epic about Odysseus. Prior to the mid-20th century, the towns could only be reached by treacherous mountain paths on mules or by sea.  Today a tortuous winding road connects the towns of Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, Minori and Maiori.  As our van rounded a corner, we got our first glimpse of the town.

            At one time Positano was an isolated fishing village where lemons and olives were cultivated in its terraced gardens.  Its primary industry was maritime trade during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Ancient olive and citrus trees still hug the hillsides, but the only boats in residence are small rowboats for the local fisherman or ferries that arrive brimming with tourists. 

            Our apartment sat in a hollow in the center of the village, accessed by walking down more than 200 wide stone steps. It was spacious, clean and actually larger than I imagined it would be.  There was a combination living/dining room, small kitchen, three bedrooms, and a bathroom with a washing machine in one corner. The walls were white-washed stucco and the floors were rosy-colored tile. There were clean towels in the bathroom, the beds were made with fresh sheets and the kitchen was furnished with pots, pans and eating utensils. Our louvered front door was draped with mosquito netting (I think that is supposed to tell us something). Clotheslines strung from fragrant lemon trees in the front yard and our “lawn” was comprised of rich soil planted with evenly spaced basil plants.

            We began to unpack and get settled in the apartment. David and Ben shared the largest bedroom, because it had twin beds.  Brandi took the medium sized room with the double bed and I agreed to take the smallest room (I swear, it was 4 feet x 10 feet and my bed is so narrow, that it is more like a cot than a twin bed.  (Oh well, it will certainly be cozy.) My room didn’t have a closet, so I stuck two self-adhesive hooks to the walls.  I put clothes hangers on one (which later in the week fell down when the self-adhesive hook gave up its sticky qualities) and hung a small mirror by its handle on the other.  I could only see one eye at a time, but that would have to do.  My large suitcase was stacked next to the dresser, but there was just enough room to squeeze by to get into bed. I placed a travel alarm next to the lamp on the bedside table and was done (much easier than unpacking an entire household of belongings inAnnapolishad been). Kirsten slept on our sofa the first night, but was going to be sharing an employee apartment in Ravello near her hotel. 

            The next morning, Seth picked us up in the van and took us toSalerno, an hours’ drive east of Positano, where we stayed at a youth hostel in an old convent for two nights while we waited for work permits. There weren’t a lot of tourists in Salerno, and we were immediately immersed in Italian language and culture. The hostel was only a couple of blocks from the waterfront and I took a walk one evening while the other students went in search of their first real Italian pizza. It was very peaceful along the waterfront which was bordered by a park.  Families strolled in the twilight and I watched from a park bench. As darkness draped the beach, I decided to return to the hostel. The next morning we were returning to Positano to visit all the hotels, meet the chefs and tour the kitchens. 

 

            The first hotel we visited was San Pietro, where Brandi would be working. Etched into the cliffs on the edge of Positano, San Pietro was probably the most luxurious hotel I have ever seen.  Intricately laid marble floors, highly polished wood and glass framed water views from the lobby. Brandi’s chef was Belgian and could speak several languages, although no one else in her kitchen spoke any English.  She was delighted to be working as a pastry chef and was quite experienced so it was a good match.

            Ben would be working at a fine dining establishment in Positano, Ristorante Max, which boasted an extensive wine cellar and art gallery.  The proprietor of the restaurant was a close friend of Seth’s.  The kitchen was small and Ben would be working with three other chefs, who were all cheerful and robust. There was a very relaxed atmosphere to his kitchen. Ben was a very casual person, so it also looked like a good match.    We were treated to an amazing lunch that first day before we proceeded to tour the other restaurants where we would be working.

            Le Sirenuse, in the center of town where David would be, and Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi where I would be, fell into the quiet elegance category.  They are both members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.  David seemed very pleased with his chef and the facilities at Le Sirenuse. Apparently no other culinary school in the world, except one in Holland, sends culinary interns to the Amalfi Coast. We’d been told how lucky we were, but it was just starting to sink in. 

            Palazzo Sasso in Ravello, where Kirsten would work, was also exquisite with gardens, fountains and views across the valley towards the sea.  Her chef also spoke English but was very formal and stern.  He explained to me that Kirsten would be treated the same as all the other employees.  I learned later from Seth that the chef had thought I was a teacher/chaperone because of my age. As we toured the kitchen, we noticed that everyone was working very hard and no one was talking to each other.  Kirsten had wanted to work in the savory side of the kitchen, but her chef informed her that she would be working with the pastry chef. She is normally a very confident young woman, but I could see doubt cross her face.  This might not work out very well.

            After our tour of all the hotels was completed, we dropped Kirsten off at the employee apartment where she would be living in Ravello and the rest of us returned to Positano.  Ben and David walked into town to pick up some essential food supplies (olive oil, garlic and toilet paper) as well as bottled water and ingredients for a pasta dish which we all shared for dinner.  Hmm, living with three other chefs might not be so bad.

            Later that evening I wrote postcards to my family to let them know that I had arrived safely and that we would all be starting work the next day. As I climbed into bed and turned out the lamp, I reflected on a line I’d read once about how the “real” you is the one you are when no one else is around.  Here I was 58 years old trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wonder who the real me was going to be?

Best Fudge Brownies

Chocolate is applauded for health benefits in addition to it’s sinfully delicious flavor.  If you want, these can be made in a muffin tin for individual portions rather than in a baking dish (just divide the batter – fill each greased section of the muffin tin about 1/2 full of batter.)  Spread a small circle of the icing on each one and top with a raspberry for an elegant dessert!

Ingredients:

Brownie:s

½ c. + 2 T. butter

1 c. sugar

1 t. vanilla

2 eggs

½ c. cocoa

½ c. flour

½ c. pecan pieces

Icing:

1 ½ c. powdered sugar

1/3 c. cocoa

1/4 cup butter

½ t. vanilla

¼ c. milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325oF.  Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla.  Add eggs and mix well.  Add cocoa, flour and pecan pieces.  Bake in a greased 8” square pan at 325oF for 30 minutes. For icing, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat and blend until smooth.  Spread on brownies while they are still warm.