May 31, 2011

street food

Apparently it rains a lot in Zürich in the summer. And it's not a warm summer afternoon rain, it's a cold-to-the-core all day rain that dampens your clothes and your spirits. Yesterday I was sweating and tearing off as many layers as was socially acceptable, and today I'm hunkered inside with my sweatshirt on (god for bid I go outside in a sweatshirt here) and feeling a bit sorry for myself. Life as an expat has its ups and downs, and today is a bit of a down day for me, which is okay since so far I'm doing well adjusting to our new life. Giving in to the homesickness every once in awhile seems acceptable and perhaps even healthy. I'm sure this blog makes it seems like my life is one big culinary-travel extravaganza - bake a cake one day and then off to Italy the next - and sometimes it is, but most of the time it's me waking up and figuring out a way to make myself happy for that one day.

Today I'm attempting to keep my spirits up by doing laundry, which is an amazingly satisfying task, and eating fresh focaccia while looking at the Rome pictures. Two years ago, when I was in Rome for a month long drawing class, I ate pizza every single day. Literally. It got to the point where I was eating it cold for breakfast. There is nothing better than a slice of thick Roman pizza purchased from one of the pizzeria nooks, as I like to call them, where you order by slice and pay buy weight. My favorite topping is a simple marinara sauce, no cheese or meat, just sauce. I was desperate for pizza during our trip to Rome, but I'm embarrassed and disappointed to say that I didn't have a chance to eat any. We were on the go almost the entire time and we were eating so well and so much that I didn't have room for even a tiny little slice when we found ourselves near some of my favorite pizzerias.

Colorful veggies and fruits layered on fresh focaccia seemed like a good solution to my Roman cravings and my rainy-day blues. The combination of colors in the toppings is entirely dependent on what I had in the house already since I wasn't about to venture out in this weather to grab anything special. Thankfully I had cherry tomatoes, donut peaches, scallions on hand and mint growing in a planter on the terrace. Ta-da a pizza is made (if you can call it that). Perhaps I should start selling pizza by the slice on summer days...hmm...I'd probably get arrested.
A plain focaccia is considered pizza in Rome. My stomach wasn't feeling so hot one day (too much salami?) so I went out to find some bread to calm things down and I wandered into a deli that was selling plain focaccia and referring to it as pizza. It was the most amazing slice of bread I've had in a long time. Wow! It was crispy, but doughy and airy and almost melted in my mouth.
While I was in architecture I ate almost every single meal with plastic cutlery, out of an aluminum to-go container. There simply wasn't time to go to the grocery store let alone cook, so when we were all in Rome, scattered in apartments throughout Trastevere, we relished the free time and fresh produce and cooked almost every night. Okay so that's not really true, 'we' didn't cook, my friend Tala cooked. From stuffed persian peppers to roast chicken to chocolate cake, we were well fed! The only truly Roman food I ate was the street food - pizza and gelato - and the rest was cooked by Tala in our little apartment on the forth floor with twelve of us perched on the couches, passing platters of meat and veggies.
Yesterday a new friend introduced me to the Turkish market and these adorable donut peaches. I only bought five, but I wish I had bought five more. They are almost bite size, but they are incredibly flavorful.
Have you been to Rome? If not put it on your to-travel list. Don't rush there right now though, it's peak tourist season and it's getting super duper hot = sweaty mobs of aimless tourists. Ahhh. That will probably make you second guess a trip to Rome at all, but really it is an incredible city with a fascinating history...and delicious pizza!

focaccia recipe - adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
- 3 cups all purpose bread flour
- 2 tsps instant yeast
- 2 tsps salt
- 1 cup water
- 6 tbsp olive oil

In the bowl of your standing mixer combine the flour, salt and yeast. With the dough hook mix at low speed and slowly add in the water and 3 tbsps of the olive oil. Mix until dough forms a smooth ball that sticks to the bottom of the bowl, but is free from the sides. If the dough is too sticky and a bit more flour and if it is too dry and a bit more water (1 tbsp or so until right consistency). Take the dough out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for about 10 seconds. Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a bowl that has been lined with a towel. Cover the dough with the towel and let it sit for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.

After the 2 hour rise, take the dough out of the bowl, knead again for about a minute, form into a ball and place back in the bowl and let it rise for another 20 minutes

Pour 1 tbsp of the olive oil in an 11 x 17 jelly roll pan and place the dough into the pan. Press and smooth the dough into the shape of a rectangle. The dough will be elastic and will resist being shaped, so let it sit for a few minutes and then stretch again. Repeat until the dough is roughly covering the pan. Cover with a towel and let it sit for another 30 minutes (I know so much waiting!)

Heat the oven to 425 F. Uncover the dough and dimple the surface by pushing into the dough with your fingers - think focaccia! Brush the remaining olive oil in the surface, sprinkle generously with salt and then place in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 375 and bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Top with your topping of choice and eat while watching Roman Holiday! I chopped cherry tomatoes, peaches, mint, scallions and mixed with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I thought about avocado, but decided to save that for dinner with Z.
I never wait for things to cool. I eat them right away, straight out of the oven. Cookies are gone before I even get the pan out of the oven, and cakes are cut into right away before I even get a chance to let them cool and ice them and if I wasn't planning on photographing this focaccia I probably would have used the oven mitts to rip it and shove it in my mouth.
I initially tried to eat it like a sandwich, but it was just too big and cumbersome and the ratio of bread to filling was too high, so I made an open face sandwich.
I'm not sure where you are reading from, if it's sunny or rainy there, but either way hopefully this brightened your day.

Off to get the laundry and put the clean sheets back on the bed - another one of my favorite things...clean sheets! Especially on a rainy, cold day.

May 30, 2011

oh to be on the beach

This is a quick preview post as I work on gathering my photos and thoughts together from last weeks trip to Roma. I could go to Rome once a month for a week for the rest of my life and never get bored. Heck, I could live there and soak in the river of pizza and pasta that flows excitedly through the narrow cobblestoned streets. We were only there for three days before we came back to Zürich, but it was a wonderful three days packed with bright sunshine, wonderfully congested streets, bright terracotta-colored buildings, domed churches and lots of different shapes of pasta.

There is no better way to face re-entry into life in Zürich than with a bbq at one of the garden plots nestled alongside the woods, high above the city. The visitor baton passed from my parents to our friends Aude and Rus. Aude is Swiss, but has lived in America since she was a teenager. We met in architecture school and worked together in New Haven. She is here visiting friends and family and one of those friends happens to have one of the garden plots that I have been coveting since discovering them in February (click here to see post).
Memorial Day means summer has really started in the states. People are packing up their cars with picnics, beach umbrellas, towels and friends and heading to the beach. Fly me to Little Compton! Oh please send me to the beach at Warren's Point and to the farm stands along West Main Road. Heaven in the hayfields! Over the past few years we have spent as many weekends in Little Compton with Zach's family as possible. We love the low key vibe and afternoons under the beach umbrella. We are going to miss those weekends desperately for as long as we are living in Zürich, which is why we need to figure out a way to get one of the garden plots on the hill. We spent most of the afternoon yesterday, in between glasses of wine and bites of bacon wrapped sausage, contemplating how we can wiggle our way up the six year (!!!) wait list and get a garden for next summer. What would I grow...certainly strawberries, lettuce, peonies, poppies and raspberries. A lot of what your garden grows depends on what the person before you planted. For example, Aude's friend Jacque has a a plum tree and a cherry tree on his little garden plots, gifts from previous tenants.
It is not a holiday weekend here, but the weather was beautiful and everyone was taking advantage of the sunshine. The water is still cold (and it probably will be all summer) but there were still a lot of people, young and old, swimming.

Here, below, is a little sneak peak of our trip to Rome. I am going to work on pulling together some posts for this week, but for now just a little eye candy.
I think it's impossible to experience Rome the same way trip after trip. Even after living there for a month two summers ago I continually get lost and find myself on unique little streets or in teeny little piazzas that open on to more little streets and piazzas that I haven't been down before. There is so much to explore and so many restaurants and pizza stands to try. It certainly has a very different feeling from Zürich. As a tourist, Rome could keep you occupied for days and weeks or even months, whereas Zürich would entertain you for half a day. Don't get me wrong I love Zürich, but not because it's a great place to visit, but because it's a nice place to live.

I'm wearing my white jeans today in honor of Memorial Day, but this isn't the first time I've worn them. Actually I've been wearing them almost everyday since late April. Since there's no Memorial Day in Zürich I figure it can't be a faux pas to break them out well in advance of the American holiday.

Happy hamburger eating and Atlantic ocean swimming to those of you visiting 'the haus' from the states. Eat some cherry pie for me...and a cheeseburger...and a hot dog...and some ice cream sandwiches!

May 23, 2011

la piazza e lo stomaco

I've titled this post 'the piazza and the stomach' because that is really what our trip to Sienna was about. We sat in the Piazza del Campo and ate, a lot. Il Campo, as it is more commonly called, is to an architecture student what a first incision or stitch is to a med student. It is a 'wow - amazing -isn't it special - these buildings actually curve to form the semi circular piazza' type of place. Three years of architecture school and 'il campo' will be as frequently heard as 'design' or 'building.' Okay, that might not quite be true, but it is certainly one of the more frequently discussed urbanism precedents. I was expecting to be overwhelmed and I was, sort of. I think somethings are better seen in the dead of winter or at dawn and not during peak tourist season. I can imagine how the space would be breathtaking, but not when I am being overwhelmed by all the wrong things, like pushy tourists, crazy photographers or nightmare tour groups running me over as I peacefully gaze upwards. It was a bit of a zoo, and not in a cute petting fuzzy rabbits way, nah, this was hectic. If you know me, then you know I'm not good in a massive crowd. I would guess Katie and her mom fair better in a mob of people, but even they were overwhelmed. We decided it was best to find a spot to eat and sit and watch the madness instead of being part of the madness. It was the best decision we made the entire trip - a glass of wine, a sausage and peperoni covered pizza, a salad and a giant plate of cheesy pasta made for a lovely view of Il Campo!

That giant plate of pasta was absolutely incredible. I don't think it was cacio e pepe because it was too creamy, but it inspired me to come home and make cacio e pepe, which is just as good and not quite as gooey.
It's too bad we didn't get a view of Il Campo from above, because that is the vantage point from which you really begin to see and understand how the piazza is shaped by the buildings around it. The view from the piazza itself is pretty great too though, especially when you get close to the buildings themselves, instead of simply viewing them from the center of the piazza.
Aside from Il Campo, this was my favorite little view, which we discovered down one of the narrow streets that lead away from the piazza. The image on the right is of the crushed fresh peper for the pepe part of the cacio e pepe.
Cacio e pepe is delicious in its simplicity. Aside from making it for lunch today I made it last week for dinner. When I told Zach what we were having he responded (over email), 'That sounds wonderful. Cacio e Pepe. If it tastes half as good as it is fun to say we're in for a fantastic meal.' It is fun to say, but it's even more fun to EAT!
I know these pictures make it seem calm (and now that I look at them it seems peaceful) but I promise it was crowded, especially on the walkway around the piazza. These people who are sitting in the piazza must have just arrived from Singapore or some other crazy hot as hades place, because it was really hot in Siena, but for them it must have felt cool.
The food! After doing a bit of looking for a spot to sit, we picked a random restaurant that had tables available in the shade. The food was surprisingly good for such a tourist hub. We started out with just salads and a pizza to share, but then we saw someone else's cheesy pasta dish arrive at the table next to us and we grabbed the waiter and ordered one! I mean...'when in Rome' least I think that is what my friend Becky says when she is in Rome and eats it every single day for every meal. Seriously she's hooked! Not even a meaty ragu or a peperoni pizza can sway her away from cacio e pepe.
I made cacio e pepe for lunch today. It was the perfect meal to get me excited for my upcoming trip to Rome! I leave tomorrow first thing in the morning and meet my parents somewhere near the Piazza del Popolo. Heaven. I absolutely adore Rome. I lived there for a month during architecture school and could have stayed for an entire year. The history - the architecture - the food - it really doesn't get much better.

Cacio e pepe recipe
- 3/4 lb of pasta. I used buccatini, a thicker version of spaghetti that actually has a hole in it. I like the texture of the thicker shape. But feel free to use spaghetti
- about a cup of the pasta water
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano

Boil your pasta until perfectly al dente. Strain, saving some of the pasta water. While the pasta is cooking heat up the olive oil and butter in a saute pan. Once the butter is melted and the olive oil begins to glisten add 1/2 of the pepper and cook for a few minutes over low heat until fragrant. Pour about 2/3 of a cup of pasta water into the oil/pepper mixture. Allow the water to simmer and then come to a boil. At this point add your cooked pasta in, tossing to coat. You are trying to avoid sticky pasta, so if you need more pasta water then add it in. Once mixed toss in your cheese and the remaining pepper and toss until melted and the pasta is coated. Plate your pasta and sprinkle with more cheese if desired. Eat!
Zach just got home from work and is sitting behind me munching on the leftovers while he waits for dinner (chicken and salad) to cook.
Okay off to check the chicken in the oven and pour myself a glass of wine. I'll be gone all week wandering the streets of Rome and then touring my parents around Zürich. Perhaps I'll be able to sneak another post in one of those days, but if not have a fabulous week!

May 20, 2011

pretty and delicious

I woke up this morning on a mission to make cacio e pepe for the Siena post, but then I went for a walk. It was just too beautiful out not to. As I was walking along the lake I remembered that the Bürkliplatz farmer's market was in full swing and I hustled my little booty on over. The flowers. Oh. My. Goodness. First off peony season is in full swing over here. They are everywhere - pink, white, magenta, coral - and everyone was buying them. I imagine there are peonies placed in every living room and powder room across Zürich. There must have been thousands. I already splurged on peonies last weekend and I was beginning to think I'd leave the market without any flowers at all, especially since I'm leaving on Tuesday to go to Rome, but then I came across these poppies (?) and I had to have them. Kinda like I neeeeeded the kitchen scale, I haaaad to have them. Besides they were only 10francs. A steal in this insanely overpriced city.
And then there is the cake that I baked when I got home from buying flowers. I'm meeting up with some new friends tonight for margaritas and enchiladas and I was put in charge of dessert. I guess that's what happens when you blog about baking. Duh I was more than happy to bake away and I was actually excited for the opportunity to test out a chocolate cake recipe that I had been eyeing for a while. Everyone needs a go-to chocolate cake recipe - the little black dress of baking - and so I decided to give it a test run for our girls dinner. Girls and Chocolate and Switzerland....I figured it was a good bet. Besides chocolate goes with everything, including margaritas!Chocolate cake and flowers...hmm not sure it get's much better than that on a sunny Friday afternoon. I have been desperately trying to restrain myself from cutting into the cake. It's just sitting there on the table asking to be eaten. You know me, I always post half eaten pieces of cake and piles of crumbs, but I figured I better bring a full cake tonight and not a cake with one slice cut out. After all I don't expect to be served a half eaten enchilada...I wasn't the only one buying flowers this morning. Zürich is generally a very quite and peaceful (read: sleepy) city and it was nice to feel some bustle this morning at the market. I even saw people fighting over a bunch of peonies. And I thought this country was neutral. A fight? oh dear.So this is kind of funny, but the cake calls for curdled milk. Weird right? I'm really not an expert baker and that seemed like a bizarre request - milk with lemon juice - but what do I know I just follow the directions. La di da... lumpy milk into the batter! eek! Zach poured lumpy milk on his cereal yesterday and was less than excited about it. And to think he threw it away when I could have put it in the cake. I do think it's a bit different though...old milk vs. freshly curdled with lemon juice? Is that right? I have no idea, I'll stop rambling now. Chocolaaaaate...mmm. I was a bit hesitant to eat the batter with the lumpy milk, but I did it anyway. Delicious! I love the photo on the upper right of the wrinkled poppy. The petals really are like paper and they are tucked inside that hairy pod for so long, no wonder they wrinkle and thank goodness they do, I love the texture of them. Also, so the cake in the oven photo must have been taken just before the entire thing overflowed and dripped on to the floor of the oven. Great, just great, burnt smoking cake batter on the bottom of the oven. It's a miracle I didn't walk away with the entire bucket full. If I wasn't going to be gone all next week I probably would have.
I have to run to the enchilada party so I don't have time to post the recipe right this minute, but I will post it when I get back. Hold the lumpy milk until then....Okay it's Sunday and I'm back to post the recipe. Let me tell you...those enchiladas were to die for. In a country without mexican they were a gift sent from a texas goodess (my new friend!) anyway ah-mazing. The cake, you ask, how was the cake? Well it was O-K. It was a bit dry, but it was good and if we had ice cream it might have been perfect. That said I'm not sure if I've found my 'little chocolate cake' yet

Adapted from Sarabeth's Bakery
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened 'Dutch process' cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 ounce unsweetend chocolate, finely chopped. I used Lindt 99%
- 10 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten- confectioner sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 8-10 cup fluted tube pan (to measure the size of your pan, pour water into it. The amount of water you can fit, based on cups, will determine how big your pan is.)Curdle your milk! - combine the milk and lemon juice in a glass bowl or cup and let it stand in a warm place while you prepare the batter.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Bring 1/2 inch of water to simmer in a small saucepan and turn off the heat. Place a small heat proof bowl into the water and add the unsweetened chocolate that you chopped. Allow the chocolate to melt and help it along by stirring occasionally. Once the chocolate has melted remove it from the water. While the chocolate is cooling beat the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer. After about 1 minute start to gradually add in the sugar and vanilla, continuing to beat until very light in texture and color. Then slowly beat in the eggs. Once the eggs have combined turn down the speed to low and beat in the melted chocolate. At this point begin to add your dry ingredients - in thirds alternating with two equal parts of milk - beat in the flour mixture. Be sure to beat until smooth after each addition. Spoon the bater into your cake pan and smooth with a spatula.

I made two smaller cakes by dividing the batter in half (in a 4 cup pan) so I estimated cooking time and found that roughly 40-45 minutes worked well. If you are baking the whole cake, bake for about an hour. The cake will be done with the top springs back when touched and when the cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then invert and release the cake from the pan. Let the cake sit until completely cool before dusting with confectioner sugar. I wish I could tell you the cake is amazing and perfect and will be my go-to little chocolate cake, but I haven't tried it yet. Perhaps when I post the recipe I will up date you on whether or not it is good. Fingers crossed it is.Happy Friday everyone! I hope you all have fun weekend plans. Not really sure what we are up to, but perhaps we'll go on that hike we've been talking about for the past month. If the cake is good, it will be coming along with us for a snack. See chocolate really does go with everything, even hiking. I guess the Swiss are masters at both, hiking and chocolate. Have I mentioned that the Swiss national past time is walking. Seriously, it is!
auf wiedersehen