Eat: Glass Hostaria in Rome

Winding through the streets of Trastevere in Rome, you hardly expect a door to open into a minimalist, open space, but clean and modern is exactly what you get when you arrive at the end of Vicolo Dè Cinque and enter Glass Hostaria. The design of the space puts raw materials to beautiful use, from the crumpled screens on the ceiling to windows in the floor peering onto bottles artfully laid across stones.Bar at Glass Hostaria

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Cooking School Review: École de Cuisine, Alain Ducasse

ecole de cuisine alain ducasseScallops were never something I’d thought much about: I recognized their white, cylindrical forms and enjoyed their smooth, rich texture and caramelized bits at restaurants. But growing up nowhere near the sea, I had no idea what the shell of a scallop looked like or really how it ended up on my plate. So when I found myself signing up for a cooking class that focused on preparing scallops two ways, I didn’t really know what to expect. And since it took place at the école de cuisine Alain Ducasse in Paris, I prayed that my long-dormant French would come back to life well enough to follow the teacher’s instructions.

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Eat: Restaurant L’Ardoise in Paris

I arrived in Paris to join my grandmother for a few days while she was visiting the city. Completely unfamiliar with the 1er arrondisement, where we were staying instead of our usual Left Bank stomping grounds, we looked for places to eat that were not too far afield. Our hotel gave us a few recommendations, and my ears perked when I heard that the chef of a little bistro around the corner was formerly of the world-renowned Tour d’Argent. After meeting a friend for a brief apéro, we dropped by to see if they could squeeze us in. We were in luck; as it was toward the end of dinner service, they had a table that had just left, which they quickly cleared for us.

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Vermont Blue Cheese Quiche & an ’81 Bordeaux

I love flipping through old notebooks and stumbling upon notes that remind you of a meal, a bottle of wine, a low-key but happy memory. That’s what happened tonight when I was going through my look-alike pile of black Moleskines to see what I should include here, toss, or file away: a few hand-scribble recipes for Julia Child’s quiche au Roquefort and pâte brisée and bottle notes on the 1981 Chateau La Tour Figeac. A happy memory of visiting the family summer home of my dear friend Anna in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom a few years ago. Continue reading

Pairing Notes: A Wintry Vegetarian Dinner

Putting together a pairing for this menu, which features “rich Mediterranean-inspired flavors,” I wanted to focus on the best ways to highlight its risotto centerpiece:

The citrusy creaminess of the lemon risotto needs a comparable wine in both weight and flavor. We recommend a heftier white like a Fumé Blanc from California, a richer style of Sauvignon Blanc that’s aged in oak. For something a little more festive, try a sparkling wine from Italy’s Franciacorta region in Lombardy, where risotto is a traditional dish; the bubbles will provide a lighter complement to the dish, refreshing the palate between bites.

Celebrations: Being Together with Good Wine

The last time I was together with both of my parents was in February, so I was excited that we were all able to be down at the beach for a few days. My little brother Scott was too busy turning 21 to join us, and what did he miss?

 Dad in a kayak.

Aside from sea and marsh kayaking, fly-fishing on a motor boat that took us out to Cumberland Island, sea turtles, dolphins, and “The American,” he missed the opportunity to drink a wine as old as his big sister. And not just any 24-year-old wine. He missed a Latour.

Yes, that is a Premier Grand Cru Classé from 1986.

Most likely, Scott does not realize what a momentous occasion this was, at least for me. This wine, along with a few others, had been sitting at my grandmother’s beach house for who knows how long, cooking in the south Georgia sun when no one was on the premises to turn on the air-conditioning. So opening the bottle was as much of a gamble as anything. There were, however, a few factors in our favor: the ullage was high (the level of wine was above the neck) and the bottle itself seemed to be in pretty good condition. And I’d texted Stevie to know if the ’86 was drinking. Her one-word response? “Drink.”

Sniffing and tasting the newly decanted wine.

Boy were we well-rewarded. The liquid inside the bottle, a tawny color, neither smelt nor tasted of vinegar. Instead, it possessed the effect of tart, underripe blackberries — tight as the wine was first exposed to air in the decanter and in my glass — as well as notes of walnut dust, leather, and raisins. And it was immediately balanced, surprisingly so, as I’d read that many Bordeaux of that year were highly tannic. Then, the magic that I love about wine began to show itself. As we prepared dinner and let the wine breathe, it was suddenly rejuvenated: full of bright, ripe berry notes, and so incredibly smooth on the palette. No element of this wine overpowered another. I was utterly happy.

Taste-testing corn-fed beef (below) and grass-fed (above),
seasoned with smoky salt from Washington State.

The Latour proved an excellent complement for my first taste of my aunt Emily’s grass-finished beef. Life is really good sometimes.

In Memoriam: The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg, for Ian

Today I learned that a friend from college passed away in a car crash over the weekend. Ian was one of those guys that I always just knew: we were placed in the same small freshman dorm and I can’t remember a day of college that I did not consider Ian Burgin a friend. He and I were cut from very different trees. I liked to play the part of the Southern belle, walking around the Vermont campus in my heels, and if there was snow, I most likely fell into it (while wearing snow boots, lest you think I’m too crazy). Ian, on the other hand, was from northwestern Massachusetts, not too far down the road from Middlebury. He was fond of the outdoors and plaid, studied Environmental sciences, and, I was convinced, was going to have some fabulous impact within the realm of sustainability. Where I spent many months holding my breath when the smell of manure began to waft its way through the state, Ian inhaled deeply, saying it reminded him of home.

Despite our differences, I loved the person Ian was and I always enjoyed his company. He was a wonderful person, so genuinely good, and good to talk to. One of my favorite memories of him is a recurring one: breakfast in Atwater dining hall. Always mindful of health and fitness, he started every day with a balanced meal, which included hard-boiled eggs. He would carefully peel the shell, separate the white from the yolk, and, leaving the latter on his plate, eat the protein-rich and cholesterol-free egg white, without seasoning. I was appalled. How can you eat that without the yummy goodness of the fatty yolk…and no salt?, I asked him throughout our first year. It just didn’t seem worth it to me. Ian, however, was more concerned with the healthful benefits of the egg over its flavor.

Over the years, our conversations often turned to food, sustainable eating, and farming, and the egg became less of an issue. His mother, he once told me, was involved in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a book about one family’s decision to eat only food produced in the place where they live. I assumed this was his community in Massachusetts, but I never asked. Ian was someone who grew up with the ethos of local eating, something that I am only just discovering.

Ian and I did not stay in touch after college, our lives shaped more by our divergent interests than the ones we shared. All the more reason I was so deeply affected today by the news of his death. Ian, you are in my prayers.

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg, for Ian

  • Place the egg in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Do not salt the water.
  • Over high heat, bring the water to a boil.
  • Once a rolling boil is achieved, set timer for 3 minutes and let the egg cook.
  • After 3 minutes have passed, remove from heat. Let the egg sit in the water for another 8 minutes. Then, remove from the hot water and run under cold water, about a minute.
  • Let sit in the refrigerator for a half hour to an hour for best peeling results.

Recipe: Beet and Beet Greens Risotto

I have been reading a lot about beet risotto recently, so I finally decided to try my hand at making it. I am a beet lover to the core—boiled, roasted, sliced, diced, ravioli filling… you name it, I eat it. I love that beets are full of flavor and are healthy at the same time: the root is a good source of vitamin C and iron, and a very good source of fiber, folate, and potassium. But what about the greens? I am the sort of cook that hates waste. If I’ve separated an egg for a meringue, I will hold onto the yolks (sometimes too long – I suggest using them immediately, from personal experience). Yes, it’s easy to find a solution for beet greens if you’re making a salad, but a risotto? I’ve made risottos with all sorts of vegetables before, from zucchini to asparagus, so I thought that beet greens might not be too different. Why not throw them in the pot as well?

Traditional Italian risottos call for arborio rice, but it has proven difficult for me to locate at times, as well as expensive for the quantity. When I lived in Italy, translations on arborio boxes often included the word “parboiled” so I looked into what that meant and found that the term refers to the way the rice is processed. Parboiled rice is rice that has been boiled in the husk, improving its nutritional profile and changing its texture. Parboiling drives nutrients into the grain itself, so that parboiled white rice is nutritionally similar to brown rice. This type of rice takes longer to cook, and the resulting texture is firmer and less sticky than most cooked rice. Although this might not work for sushi, it is useful for making risotto, which is a slow process that requires the rice starches to be released slowly over time.

I began the way I always begin to cook risotto, with two pots on the stove. In the larger pot, I drizzled olive oil and let my diced onion begin to simmer. In the smaller pot, I brought my homemade chicken stock to a slow boil. My initial intention was to grate the beets to allow the thin strips to brown evenly alongside the onion, but halfway through the smallest of the bunch, I gave up and zapped the rest in the microwave for 30 seconds in a bowl with a bit of water in it. This didn’t cook the beets but merely softened them enough for a knife to pass easily through. I diced them and through them into the pot once the onions took on a translucent color. Then I removed the stems from the greens, washed them, and cut the leaves into little slivers. Into the pot those went as well, and I allowed the vegetables to cook down for about five minutes before adding a cup of the rice.

Once the rice browned (about a minute), I began to slowly add the simmering broth, stirring to let the liquid absorb slowly, building the texture of the risotto, incorporating the beets, greens, onions, and rice. 20 minutes and 4 cups of broth later, I pulled the risotto from the heat and added about a half cup of freshly grated Grana Padano (the ‘skim’ version of Parmigiano, which I enjoy for its nuttier flavor). Then, my roommate and I sat down to eat. Recipe conclusion? The beet greens held up nicely in the risotto, adding flavor and texture, rather than wilting away as I had feared. The rice itself worked well, although it had a nuttier quality than arborio typically has. My only regret was not roasting the beets longer in the pan. They were a little undercooked, but nonetheless wonderful. At least for a beet lover.

Bacon. Because it’s the trendy thing to do.

I’ve always been a meat-lover. Growing up, my daddy hunted and I remember us eating what he had shot, from duck breasts to dove “poppers” to venison sausage (my personal favorite). Game has been the name of the, well, game for as long as I can remember.

I cannot say the same for bacon. Like most girls, I’ve toyed with different diets in my day, and one that stuck for a long time was the swearing off of bacon. I proclaimed I did not like it, did not want to eat it or even touch it—I convinced myself of this for a long time. Not that I had an issue with the concept (‘vegetarianism’ has never been part of my personal vocabulary), I just refused it. That is until I moved to Italy and began to eat and breathe pork, from prosciutto to speck to pancetta. Italian brought bacon hurtling back into my diet, and I’ve never looked back.

A meal that has stood out recently in my mind is based on the notion of bacon, but on a grander scale. I had the pleasure of dining in the bar room at Aureole near Times Square in New York City. I work near the place, had read multiple reviews, and finally decided I needed to try it for myself. I could wax poetic about the beauty of the restaurant space and the competence of the waitstaff (the sommelier let me try several tastes of wine until I found one that was perfect for me—and this was over lunch), but I am really focused on one aspect of my meal: the Pork Belly Sliders.

In layman’s terms, pork belly is just a hefty cut of bacon. A beautiful, thick, fatty, exquisitely juicy cut of bacon. Executive Chef Charlie Palmer, owner of several New York City restaurants, calls his style of cuisine “Progressive American,” and in America, bacon is literally from the belly of the pig (not true elsewhere in the world, since bacon can be cut from multiple sections). Although Chef’s menu elegantly opens to reveal first the ‘bar snacks,’ then the appetizers and entrees, I never moved beyond the first element of the menu that caught my eye. Pork Belly.

The belly was served in the style of pastrami sliders, replete with cole slaw, russian dressing, and raclette cheese, served on the tiniest little brioche, and topped with a few slivers of toasted sea salt. Three glorious squares of pork belly were each encased in this delicate take on a delicatessen favorite. Each bite was distinct, highlighting the fat of the belly, the crunch of the salt, the ooze of the slaw and dressing, the softness of a slightly soggy bun. And although it sounds decadent, the size of each portion was little more than bite size. I was so satisfied I even refused the dessert menu. This might just be my new diet…